Colonial pipeline cyberattack could cause gasoline shortages in Southeast

A ransomware attack on a major U.S. energy pipeline is threatening to leave some gas stations in the Southeast without fuel.

If it’s not solved quickly, stations that rely on the Colonial Pipeline could begin running short within days, says Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis at fuel-savings app GasBuddy, which tracks prices and outages.

“Nobody is out yet, but we’re probably right on the cusp,” he adds. “Today, tomorrow, especially Wednesday, you’re going to see some outages.”

Still, he urged drivers not to panic in states along the Gulf and southeastern Atlantic coasts..

Don’t “go out and hoard gasoline and make the problem much worse,” he says.

The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel for the East Coast, said it had been hobbled by a cyberattack on Friday.

The unidentified hackers struck the system with a ransomware attack, which takes computerized systems hostage until a payment is made. 

The Colonial system runs more than 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey. It transports over 100 million gallons of fuel a day, including gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil, from refineries on the Gulf Coast.

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For now, the possibility of localized fuel outages or price increases depends almost exclusively on how long the pipeline remains down, analysts say.

“My instincts right now tell me this is a major event for the history of cybersecurity but not necessarily for fuel supply or fuel prices,” says Tom Kloza, analyst at the Oil Price Information Service. But he adds that if Colonial announces the main lines of their system are down for another three to four days, “it’ll get dicier.”

Colonial Pipeline Company in Linden, N.J., a major pipeline that transports fuels along the East Coast, says it had to stop operations because it was the victim of a cyberattack. Colonial Pipeline said in a statement late Friday that it "took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems." (Photo: Mark Lennihan, AP)

DeHaan and Kloza says the downtime is unlikely to move the national average price of gasoline by more than a few pennies. The average price for a gallon of regular gasoline on Monday stands at $2.97, up 1 cent from Sunday and 7 cents from a week ago as demand picks up, according to AAA.

“Events like these are not necessarily big price movers,” DeHaan says. “This is more of a supply challenge.”

The episode illustrates how vulnerable the nation’s energy infrastructure is to infiltration.

“It absolutely exposes a major vulnerability,” DeHaan says.

Kloza says it’s a “wakeup call” for the energy industry, adding “Imagine if it was one of the power companies.”

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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