© Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images Colonial Pipeline Baltimore Delivery in Maryland. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
On Friday, Colonial Pipeline shut down its 5,550-mile gasoline pipeline following a cyberattack on the company’s computer systems. The pipeline, which runs from the Gulf Coast to New Jersey, is the largest conduit for gasoline in the country, transporting nearly half of the gasoline used on the East Coast. Below, what we know about the shutdown, its impact, the cyberattack that prompted it, and how its capacity will be restored now that the firm announced that the pipeline restarted on Wednesday afternoon.
What is Colonial Pipeline?
Colonial Pipeline is the largest refined-products pipeline network in the country, transporting over 100 million gallons per day. It says it transports 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, reaching 50 million Americans.
This is wild
Colonial Pipeline, which operates the largest US gasoline and diesel pipeline system, said it shut its entire network after a cyber-attack. The artery transports roughly 45% of the fuel to the East Coasthttps://t.co/VJwiiGEIRm pic.twitter.com/b9Z52d6SSp— Stephen Stapczynski (@SStapczynski) May 8, 2021
Service was restored at 5 p.m. on Wednesday
The Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday afternoon that it had resumed service, the first step to bringing an end to the critical shortage on the eastern seaboard. According to the company, “it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”
The reopening was within the initial timeframe provided by the firm; on Monday, it said is was using a phased approach to reopening the pipeline “based on a number of factors, with safety and compliance driving our operational decisions and the goal of substantially restoring operational service by the end of the week.”
Gas lines across the East Coast and the South
Long lines continued to form six days after the pipeline became inoperative, leading to severe fuel shortages across the East Coast and the South. Panicked buyers also contributed to the crunch by hoarding fuel, according to interviews and eyewitnesses. Gas prices jumped to just above $3 a gallon nationwide, USA Today reports, the highest such price since 2014.
The gas line this morning at a station in Cherry Grove 👀May 12, 2021
The Wall Street Journal reports that gasoline demand across the U.S. was up about 20 percent from a week earlier; in some states, that demand jumped to 40 percent. “It was unbelievable. When I was driving today, I thought it was a catastrophe coming!” Yasheeka Wiggins of Marion, South Carolina, told CBS News. “I’ve seen all these cars waiting, and I was like, OMG. I have to fill my tank up!”
Several gas stations in #Charlotte have long lines or are out of fuel after the ransomware attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline.May 11, 2021
Some southern gas stations ended up selling two to three times as much gas as usual on Tuesday, the New York Times reports, and almost 8 percent of Virginia stations ran out of gas. In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp suspended the state’s gasoline tax, while the governors of North Carolina, Florida, and Virginia declared states of emergency to loosen fuel-transport regulations to address the shortage. Both states and the Biden administration are warning against panic-buying and price gouging.
During the gas shopping frenzy, photos of plastic bags filled with gasoline emerged online. Though the pictures appear to be from 2019, according to Snopes, they prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to post a lengthy tweet thread advising consumers not to do this.
Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline.— US Consumer Product Safety Commission (@USCPSC) May 12, 2021
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg echoed that sage advice at a media briefing at the White House on Wednesday. “Hoarding does not make things better,” he said. “And under no circumstances should gasoline ever be put into anything but a vehicle directly or an approved container.” Amid rising concerns about gas prices and gas shortages after the ransomware attack, he said the Biden administration is working around the clock to restore pipeline operations.
He added that the latest cyberattack and the Texas power grid failure in February were “two major wake-up call experiences” this year that showed the country must “make sure that we have the most resilient and flexible infrastructure for the future.”
Air travel feels the crunch
On Monday, American Airlines became the first carrier to alter its schedule after it announced it would be adding refueling stops to two of its long-haul routes out of Charlotte, North Carolina. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian told the Today show that his airline has enough fuel at the moment, relying on extra supplies that should be sufficient for now: “They’re telling us that supplies will be back by the end of the week. If predictions are true, we’ll be okay.”
Feds declared emergencies in more than a dozen states
In response to the gas crunch, the Biden administration eased some restrictions on the transport of gasoline and other fuels. The Department of Transportation declared a regional state of emergency to enact the measures, affecting 17 states and the District of Columbia. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an emergency waiver for fuel air emissions in an attempt to address the shortage as well.
What do we know about the cyberattack, and who carried it out?
On Friday, a cyberextortion attempt knocked out a major route for gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel for nearly half of the East Coast. Colonial Pipeline has been shut down indefinitely since Friday, after the pipeline’s operator suffered what is believed to be the largest successful cyberattack on oil infrastructure in the country’s history.
Colonial was hit with a ransomware attack, in which hackers take computerized systems hostage until a payment is made. On Thursday, the attackers took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network in just two hours, Bloomberg reported. It remains unclear what the hackers demanded. Colonial Pipeline shut down the pipeline as a precautionary measure, the company said; the ransomware itself did not directly cause the shutdown.
On Monday, the FBI confirmed in a statement that DarkSide, a hacker group originating in Russia, is believed to be responsible. The group is new, but it has already hacked into scores of companies in the U.S. and Europe. A news release issued on Monday in the name of the cybergroup says its goal is to make money and not create problems for society. The statement did not explicitly point to the Colonial Pipeline incident, but it was titled “About the latest news.”
Per Bloomberg’s report on Saturday, the attack “was part of a double-extortion scheme that is one of the group’s hallmarks”:
Colonial was threatened that the stolen data would be leaked to the internet while the information that was encrypted by the hackers on computers inside the network would remain locked unless it paid a ransom, said [people familiar with the matter], who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public.
In a White House press briefing on Monday, Biden called on the Russian government to stop harboring cybercriminals. “I’m going to be meeting with President Putin,” he said. “So far, there is no evidence … from our intelligence people that Russia is involved, although there is evidence that the actors’ ransomware is in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this.”
Does the shutdown pose any environmental risks?
Though the recent shutdown is not expected to pose an environmental risk, Colonial Pipeline has a checkered track record on pipeline safety. Last week’s hack was the company’s worst crisis since last summer, when a pipeline rupture in North Carolina spilled at least 1.2 million gallons of gasoline — the largest spill in the state’s history. Initially, the company stated that only 63,000 gallons had been leaked.
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