No need to panic-buy fuel, experts say

When news of a cyberattack on a critical U.S. pipeline first broke, experts warned that panic-buying could make the situation exponentially worse and drag out the effects of the disruption.

Colonial Pipeline — which supplies around 45% of the Southeastern United States’ fuel — suffered a ransomware attack on May 7. The attack has been attributed to the digital ransom group DarkSide.

It said Wednesday night it has restarted the pipeline and will resume deliveries.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared states of emergency due to the disruption.

Despite the best efforts by industry experts and government agencies to temper a run on the pumps, panic buying won out in many areas. Some stations have already run out of fuel, despite starting with a supply that could have potentially rode out the crisis.

GasBuddy petroleum analyst Allison Mac said the number of gas stations that have reported running out of fuel in Virginia jumped sharply on Wednesday.

She said anybody who can absolutely avoid it should not use their car for the next several days as efforts are made to restore function to the Colonial Pipeline.

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“The folks at Colonial Pipeline are saying they should be back up and running by Friday,” Mac said. “Of course, it will take a couple days for them to be fully recovered and at a full capacity.”

The cyberattack should serve as a wake-up call for pipelines around the country to step up their security.

“I don’t think this is coincidental that this happened right before Memorial Day, when a bunch of Americans will be hitting the road,” she said.

Those who find that they must drive can use GasBuddy’s station-finder to see which stations in their area still have fuel.

CNBC Markets reporter Dominic Chu told WTOP that America’s status as the world’s largest producer of hydrocarbons makes it unlikely that the nation will run out of oil and gas, and the problem that this disruption presents is more an issue of delivering gas and oil to areas that need it.

He said the most likely impact this disruption will have is on prices, since they were already set to go up as summer approaches.

“This a seasonably strong time for demand going into the summer driving season — even more so because of the pandemic,” Chu said.

While the pipeline could be fully operational with a few days, the Biden Administration is using the crisis as an example as to why President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure package should be approved.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the hack illustrated the point that infrastructure is a national security issue and more efforts must be made to make systems more resilient.

“This is not an extra, this is not a luxury, this is not an option,” he told reporters at the White House on Wednesday. “This has to be core to how we secure critical infrastructure.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

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