The cyberattack on a major pipeline network in the United States raised fears of gasoline shortages, prompting nervous purchases and the government’s temporary suspension of anti-pollution regulations in three states and the federal capital to ensure supply.
Hundreds of service stations in the southeast of the country reported running out of fuel as customers lined up to fill their tanks, analysts said.
A ‘ransomware’ attack on Colonial Pipeline on Friday forced the company to shut down its entire network, but officials from President Joe Biden’s administration urged calm, saying the situation is only temporary.
Colonial Pipeline, which transports about 45% of the fuels consumed on the country’s east coast, has said it aims to fully resume distribution by the weekend.
At the White House, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said some areas “may feel a supply shortage until Colonial’s service is fully resumed.”
However, “there should be no reason to hoard gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend,” he told reporters.
8.5% of gas stations in North Carolina, 7.7% in Virginia, 5.8% in Georgia and 2.8% in Florida were out of gas as of Tuesday afternoon, according to Patrick De Haan , analyst of the specialized site GasBuddy.
The average price in the country for a gallon of gasoline was $ 2.97, “its highest level since 2018,” he said.
– “No gasoline before the sun goes down” –
“We will run out of gas before the sun goes down if this continues,” a manager of a gas station in Raleigh, North Carolina, told AFP.
“Everybody’s watching the news, you know, they freak out, then they run off and buy gas. They’re filling cans and everything.”
Some fear the disruption will cause prices to spike just before the Memorial Day holiday on May 31, the unofficial start of the summer travel season.
To alleviate the situation, the Biden government has already granted more flexibility for the transport of refined products by road as of Sunday.
And on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) granted “a temporary waiver to ensure that there is an adequate supply of gasoline available in affected areas until normal supply to the region can be restored.”
The EPA measure suspends clean air rules that require urban areas to use fuel with additives that make gasoline less polluting but also more expensive.
The exemption “is necessary to take steps to minimize or prevent the disruption of gasoline supply to consumers,” explained EPA Administrator Michael Regan.
This provision will be in force until May 18 and concerns the capital, Washington, as well as the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.
The Department of Transportation is also evaluating lifting certain obligations to facilitate the delivery of oil by ship from the Gulf of Mexico and considering the capacities of the railway companies to transport more gasoline from the coast to the interior of the country.
– “Bullish risk” –
Crude oil prices rose slightly on Tuesday, but the market appears generally reassured by the promise of Colonial Pipeline’s full resumption of operations.
A barrel of North Sea Brent for July delivery ended at $ 68.55 in London, 0.34% or 23 cents higher than Monday’s close.
In New York, a US barrel of WTI for June gained 0.55%, or 36 cents, at $ 65.28.
This weak reaction to the cyber attack stems from the fact that “Colonial has said that it intends to restore operations in a few days, which should limit the impact on prices in the short term,” said Robbie Fraser of Schneider Electric.
“However, an upward risk remains if this schedule is delayed, which would trigger a further increase in US imports by sea from Europe and other world markets,” the expert warned.
According to the FBI, Colonial Pipeline was targeted by hackers from the DarkSide group using “ransomware,” a program that exploits security holes to encrypt computer systems and demand payment to unlock them.
America’s largest refined products pipeline operator ships gasoline and jet fuel from the Gulf Coast of Texas to the populous East Coast through 8,850 kilometers of pipelines, serving 50 million consumers.