Gas stations along the Southeast coast are beginning to feel the pinch from the shutdown of the biggest oil pipeline in the US due to a crippling cyberattack believed to be orchestrated by a Russia-based criminal group.
The closure of the 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline, which carries more than 100 million gallons of fuel from Texas to New Jersey each day, has stretched into its fifth day. The Alpharetta, Georgia-based company suspended all operations after it was hit Friday by a ransomware attack that could prove to be among the most costly in US history.
Colonial said Monday it hopes to get most of its operations back online by the weekend, but that’s not soon enough to avoid shortages and price hikes as supply has already started to dwindle.
About 7.6 percent of gas stations in Virginia were out of fuel by early Tuesday, according to GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan’s estimates. He added that nearly 5 percent of gas stations in North Carolina, 3.3 percent in Georgia as well as 2.4 percent in Florida are also reporting that they’ve sold out of fuel.
The shortages spurred North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency on Monday to help ensure the state maintains a sufficient fuel supply.
Panic buying appears to have exacerbated the limited supply. DeHaan said that across Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, demand for gasoline rose more than 40 percent.
Supermarket chain Ingles, which operates gas stations across North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee, is already seeing shortages and running completely out of gas at some of its locations, CFO Ron Freeman told the Citizen Times.
At an Exxon Mobil station in Asheville, North Carolina, a clerk answered the phone with “Hello, I’m currently out of gas,” according to Bloomberg. The outlet added that another station in Manning, South Carolina, had bagged their pumps and marked them “Out of service.”
Latest statewide numbers for gas stations without gasoline as of 6am CT according to GasBuddy data.— Patrick De Haan (@GasBuddyGuy) May 11, 2021
Note: these numbers may be low as our data stream is only hours old and more updates flow in. https://t.co/A5TguUjDzT
Atlanta-based RaceTrac confirmed to WSBTV-2 that some of its Georgia gas stations are already reporting temporary outages. And WBTW-TV reported lines at stations across South Carolina, from Marion and Mullins to Myrtle Beach, are growing longer as drivers scramble to stock up on gas.
Concerns about gas shortages and images of panic buying rolled in on social media Monday night.
In a meeting on Monday, Colonial’s chief executive Joseph Blount warned state officials that supply shortages could occur throughout the week as the company and the federal government work to get operations back up and running, Bloomberg reported. The outlet added that the White House said it is “monitoring supply shortages in parts of the Southeast.”
While the company said Monday that it’s manually operating a portion of the pipeline running from North Carolina to Maryland, most of the line is still down. Colonial is working with the federal government to investigate and respond to the hacking. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said Sunday that an “all-hands-on-deck” effort is underway to restore operations.
“We are working closely with the company, state and local officials to make sure that they get back up to normal operations as quickly as possible and there aren’t disruptions in supply,” Raimondo said.
On Monday, the FBI confirmed the cyberattack was carried out by a professional gang of hackers known as “DarkSide.”
DarkSide is known to extort cash from corporations and give a cut to charity, the Associated Press reported Sunday, citing sources familiar with the federal investigation.
In a statement reportedly posted on DarkSide’s website, the group claimed, “Our goal is to make money, and not creating problems for society. From today we introduce moderation and check each company that our partners want to encrypt to avoid social consequences in the future.”
The statement, provided to CNBC by the Boston-based security company Cybereason on Monday, added: “We are apolitical, we do not participate in geopolitics, do not need to tie us with a defined government and look for our motives.”
While President Biden stopped short Monday of linking the Kremlin and DarkSide, he said that “there is evidence that the actors’ ransomware is in Russia.”
During a White House briefing, Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser for cyber and emerging technologies, also described DarkSide as “a criminal actor” but said that “our intelligence community is looking for any ties to any nation-state actors.