Fuel stockpiles are drying up as most of a crucial conduit remains offline.
Last Friday, a cyberattack against Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline Co. triggered a crisis that impacts motorists across the United States’ entire east coast and southern Gulf region, from New York City to Louisiana. According to a GasBuddy analyst (as reported by Bloomberg), 7% of Virginia’s gas stations were completely out of fuel late Monday. As the Colonial pipeline remains partially out of commission as of May 11, the Biden administration relaxed some environmental regulations to alleviate the growing supply crisis.
“It’s going to be catastrophic,” said Liberty Petroleum LLC chief executive John Patrick. “Governors should declare a state of emergency and ask people chasing tanker trucks to gas stations to stay home. School buses stay put.”
The Colonial pipeline links Gulf Coast refineries to large cities, including Atlanta, New York and beyond. It shifts about 2.5 million barrels — or 105 million gallons — of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to where it’s needed each day. Since the Friday cyberattack, local governments have scrambled to secure stockpiles by tanker ships, barges and trucks.
Colonial Pipeline did reopen a section of its system from Greensboro, North Carolina to Baltimore as of Monday evening. However, the larger section from the refining nexus in South Texas to North Carolina remains shut.
This week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation blamed a ransomware group known as “DarkSide”. Ransomware attacks infect computer networks with malicious software that will encrypt data, blocking the intended users from accessing it. Then, the attackers will extort a fee to remove the blocks, often under threat of deleting data or releasing sensitive information to third parties if the victim fails to comply. These incidents are becoming increasingly common, to the point where the White House released a plan to shore up vulnerable infrastructure.
“My administration takes this very seriously,” President Biden said during a briefing on the economy Monday. “We have efforts underway with the FBI and Department of Justice to disrupt and prosecute ransomware criminals. My administration is also committed to safeguarding our critical infrastructure, much of which is privately owned and managed, like Colonial.” CNN published a larger report on Biden’s remarks.
Fuel prices are soaring
Late last month, reports stated that a tanker driver shortage could prompt higher fuel prices as the U.S. ramps up for the summer travel season. Now, the Colonial pipeline attack compounds that impending shortage, sending prices to their highest point in nearly seven years. On Tuesday, the national average retail gasoline price rose to $2.98 a gallon, according to the American Automobile Association (AAA).
Colonial Pipeline says it should have the entire network back in operation by this weekend, Bloomberg also reports. However, as the disruption blocks millions of gallons to east coast recipients each day, stories of hours-long queues, depleted gas stations and inflated prices are sure to build, at least in the short term.