WASHINGTON – US President Joe Biden on Thursday (May 13) reassured US motorists that fuel supplies should start returning to normal this weekend, even as more filling stations ran out of gasoline across the South-east nearly a week after a cyber attack on the nation’s top fuel pipeline.
Colonial Pipeline said late Thursday that it had restarted its entire pipeline system and delivery in all markets it serves. The company said it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal along its 8,850km route.
Some markets “may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions,” Colonial Pipeline said in a statement, echoing Biden who said earlier there could be “hiccups.” The pipeline, which carries 100 million gallons per day of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel, resumed computer-controlled pumping late Wednesday after adding safety measures.
Gasoline shortages worsened from Virginia to Florida as depots and distribution centres awaited supply. The shutdown also forced two refineries to curb output and spurred airlines to reroute flights to refuel at airports outside the impacted area. Motorists’ tempers frayed as panic buying led stations to run out even where supplies were available.
“Relief is coming,” added Jeanette McGee, a spokeswoman for motor travel group AAA.
The pipeline’s restart should bring supplies to some hard-hit areas as soon as Thursday, said US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
On Thursday about 70% of gas stations in North Carolina were without fuel, while around 50% of stations in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia had outages, tracking firm GasBuddy said.
The average national gasoline price rose above US$3.00 a gallon, the highest since October 2014, the American Automobile Association said. Prices in some areas jumped as much as 11 cents in a day.
Nicole Guy, 36, a leasing agent in Atlanta, was at her fourth gas station Thursday morning, trying to find gas. The station ran out early Wednesday and the manager was not sure when deliveries would resume.
Guy said she wished she had gone out the night before to refuel.
“My sister paid $3.50 at the pump last night for her car,” she said. “I thought if I went looking today I’d find a better deal. I never paid that much at the pump.” Even as the pipeline resumes pumping, it will take time to replenish stocks. Gasoline inventories in the Northeast likely will fall to five-year lows this week, said Richard Joswick, an analyst with S&P Global Platts.
As FBI cybersleuths dug into an attack that paralysed a large part of the US energy infrastructure, the group believed to be responsible said it was publishing data from breaches at three other companies, including an Illinois technology firm.
Biden said officials do not believe the Russian government was involved in this attack.
“But we do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia,” he said. “That’s where it came from.” US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged companies that are victims of cyberattacks not to pay ransom.
Colonial has not disclosed how much money the hackers were seeking or whether it paid. Colonial has a type of insurance that typically covers ransom payments, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
To stem fuel shortages, four states and federal regulators relaxed fuel driver restrictions to speed deliveries of fresh supplies.
Washington also issued a waiver to an undisclosed shipper allowing it to transport gasoline and diesel from the US Gulf Coast to East Coast ports on foreign-flagged vessels. The US restricts deliveries between domestic ports to US-built and crewed vessels.
Gulf Coast refiners that move fuel to market on the Colonial Pipeline had cut processing as an alternative pipeline filled to capacity last weekend. Total SE trimmed gasoline production at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery and Citgo Petroleum pared back at its Lake Charles, Louisiana, plant.
Royal Dutch Shell Plc on Thursday said it was seeking alternative supply points to tackle challenges from the incident.
Airlines were refuelling planes at their destinations, instead of usual departure points. On Wednesday, Delta Air Lines Chief Executive Ed Bastian said more fuel would be available “hopefully by the end of the week and as long as those predictions come true, hopefully we’ll be OK.”