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Panic Drives Gas Shortages After Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack

Customers swarm a COSTCO gas station amid fears of a gas shortage in Richmond, Va., Tuesday. The line at the facility extended around the entire building.
Steve Helber
Customers swarm a COSTCO gas station amid fears of a gas shortage in Richmond, Va., Tuesday. The line at the facility extended around the entire building.

The Colonial Pipeline hack that shut down the major gasoline and jet fuel pipeline to large swaths of the South and the East Coast is leading to temporary shortages.

The cyberattack disabled computer systems responsible for fuel production from Texas to the Northeast, and now gas stations in the Southeast are seeing panicked motorists lining up in droves to fill their tanks and jerrycans. In some cases, NPR's Camila Domonoske reported, drivers are being turned away from now-empty gas pumps. The overall anxiety over a shortage has also triggered slight price increases, even as gasoline costs were already beginning to climb.

"We've already seen higher gas prices," Tiffany Wright, a spokeswoman for AAA in the Carolinas, said on Tuesday.

"They have gone up as high from anywhere from 3 to 10 cents overnight," she added.

Kellie Lesley who works at a Food Shop in Marietta, S.C., said the pumps at the gas station are empty.

"We don't have anything but diesel. We were expecting a delivery, but it never showed up; it was supposed to have been there at midnight last night," Lesley said, explaining that customers came overnight to fill up after hearing about the hack on the news. She called it mean and rude.

"Because there's people that need to go to the doctors and take their kids to school, so just get what you need. Don't hoard it!" she said.

A QuickTrip convenience has bags on its pumps as the station has no gas on Tuesday in Kennesaw, Ga. Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, halted operations last week after revealing a cyberattack that it said had affected some of its systems.
Mike Stewart / AP
A QuikTrip convenience store in Kennesaw, Ga., has bags on its pumps Tuesday to indicate it has no gas. Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of fuel consumed on the East Coast, halted operations last week after a cyberattack.

The Biden administration said federal agencies are responding and urged consumers to remain calm and only buy what they need, assuring the public the pipeline will be back and running at full capacity soon.

"We're working around the clock with our federal, state, local and industry partners to respond to the Colonial Pipeline cybersecurity incident," Deputy Energy Secretary Dave Turk saidin a video Twitter statement on Tuesday evening.

The department has said officials are considering moving supply by train or ship if necessary. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued temporary fuel transportation waivers to increase the supply of gasoline.

Governors where Colonial Pipeline is the primary fuel source for many retailers have declared states of emergency in response to the ransomware disruption. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed an executive order allowing state agencies to issue their own fuel transportation waivers and providing increased funding for state and local governments to ensure adequate fuel supply. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper similarly suspended fuel regulations to get gas flowing again.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp temporarily suspended the gas tax in his state, and he has lifted weight limits on trucks transporting fuel. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in an executive order said he may activate the state's National Guard as needed in response to the temporary shortages there. In South Carolina, Gov. Henry McMaster saidthat a pandemic-related state of emergency already in place means transportation waivers and price-gouging laws are in effect to facilitate fuel delivery and protect consumers.

Experts said pipeline operations should return to normal by the end of this week. They also noted gas prices have been steadily going up over the last couple of weeks, due in part to regular seasonal patterns.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Vanessa Romo
Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.