Pipeline cyberattack fuels panic buying, gas shortages, hike in prices

Pipeline cyberattack fuels panic buying, gas shortages, hike in prices
MATJAZ SLANIC/iStock
May 12th, 2021 | ABC News Radio

(WASHINGTON) — Gas stations are running out of fuel in Southeastern cities and long lines are forming across the country as panic buying ensues following the crippling cyberattack on the nation’s top fuel pipeline network.

Ashish Desai, an employee at BP station in Charlotte, North Carolina, said Tuesday was chaotic.

“We had people waiting before we even got here,” Desai said, adding that cars began lining up around 6:30 a.m.

He said a handful of pumps were shut down around 2 p.m., but eventually they were all closed and it was unclear when the next fuel delivery would be made.

“It could be tomorrow; it could be next week. I don’t know,” he told ABC News.

The Southeastern U.S. is feeling the worst impact. The Colonial Pipeline that is now offline is responsible for delivering more than 70% of the transportation fuels supply to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, according a homeland security bulletin obtained by ABC News.

Georgia and North Carolina have already issued emergency declarations. In North Carolina, 9% of gas stations were without fuel, according to GasBuddy analyst Patrick DeHaan. And in Georgia, almost 6% of the state’s gas stations were without gasoline, with more than 20% of metro Atlanta gas stations out.

“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm cautioned Tuesday, “there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend.”

Krisi Ennis, who lives in North Carolina but works in South Carolina, said Tuesday that she had seen the news the night before, but panicked when she noticed the gas station near her job had run out of gas.

“I got lucky,” she told ABC News, after waiting for over 40 minutes before finally getting to a pump.

She said there were only two gas stations with fuel available in her area and she paid $60 for 17 gallons of gas.

“You got to get what you can get right now; we got to go to work,” Ennis said.

The national gas price stood at $2.98 on Tuesday, an 8-cent increase on the week, according to AAA.

The association said the last time the U.S. saw average prices at $2.99 and higher was November 2014.

Airlines are also feeling the ripple effects of the pipeline shutdown.

American Airlines had to add a fuel stop on two of their daily long-haul flights out of Charlotte, North Carolina.

One American flight that’s normally nonstop from Charlotte to Honolulu will now involve a stop in Dallas/Fort Worth, where passengers will have to switch to a different aircraft. The other impacted flight that normally flies direct from Charlotte to London will stop in Boston for additional fuel.

A United Airlines spokesperson told ABC News that their operations are not currently impacted, but that they are tankering fuel into four airports. Tankering involves flying planes with additional fuel into an airport which allows them to avoid or reduce ground refueling. They will fly into Baltimore, Nashville, Greenville-Spartanburg and Savannah.

The Colonial Pipeline’s chief executive had indicated the company would decide by the close of business on Wednesday whether it could fully restart the pipeline, Granholm said, but that even if it did, “it will take a few days to ramp up operations.”

ABC News’ Luke Barr, Josh Margolin, Sam Sweeney, Jade Lawson and Ben Gittleson contributed to this report.

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