US fuel shortages continue as Colonial works to restore pipeline service

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Drivers found gas pumps wrapped in plastic bags at drained gas stations in more than a dozen US states, while the operator of the country’s largest gas pipeline reported making “significant progress” in solving the computer hack-induced shutdown responsible for the empty tanks. .

About 70% of gas stations in North Carolina were still running out of fuel amid panic purchases, and about half of stations in Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia were tapped, GasBuddy.com reported. Washington, DC, was one of the hardest hit locations, with 73% of stations out, the site’s tracking service showed.

President Joe Biden said on Thursday that US officials do not believe the Russian government was involved in the hack of the Colonial Pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey. But he added: ‘We have good reason to believe that the criminals who carried out the attack live in Russia. That’s where it came from. “

A cyber attack by hackers who lock computer systems and demand a ransom to release them was in the pipeline on Friday. The hackers did not take control of the pipeline, but Colonial shut it down to limit the damage.

The US had direct communication with Moscow about the need to take action against ransom networks, Biden said. The FBI has said the ransomware belonged to a criminal syndicate known as DarkSide.

After operations restarted Wednesday, Colonial Pipeline, based in Georgia, said in an update Thursday that gasoline deliveries were underway in all of its markets. It will take ‘a few days’ for things to return to normal, and in some areas ‘intermittent service outages’ may occur during this start-up period, ”the company said.

The Northeast has seen fewer shortages as those states get more of their gas supplies from sea tankers and other sources. The Colonial Pipeline supplies about 45% of the gasoline consumed on the East Coast, but there were no gasoline shortages, according to government officials and energy analysts, only delays in the delivery of fuel from Gulf Coast refineries.

“We’re not out of the woods yet, but the trees are thinning,” said Richard Joswick, chief of oil analysis at S&P Global Platts.

However, gas stations should be back to normal next week, if the pipeline restart goes as planned and consumers are convinced they no longer need to panic to buy fuel, Joswick said. He estimated that full recovery for the East Coast and Gulf Coast would take at least a few weeks.

In Virginia, however, the pipeline closure on Thursday still had tangible effects. Stephen Brich, the Virginia Department of Transportation highways commissioner, said the agency is restricting non-essential travel and asking its employees to keep working remotely as a protection strategy. The decision affects approximately 4,000 employees.

Employees still respond to emergencies such as potholes, malfunctioning traffic lights and bridge problems. There are enough supplies of lead-free and diesel fuel to maintain the services for several more weeks, Brich said.

The gas flight also sparked an urgent warning in the state that people should never siphon gasoline by mouth with hoses, an advice that followed calls about poisoned people in recent days. A man sucked gasoline into his lungs and caused much suffering, said Dr. Chris Holstege, the medical director of the Blue Ridge Poison Center at UVA Health.

Governors of both Virginia and North Carolina have declared a state of emergency to help ensure access to gasoline. Other governors urged people not to hoard supplies.

“There is available fuel supply in and around our state, and it will take time for tankers to move that stock to the stations that are in shortage,” said North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. He reiterated the call to residents not to make unnecessary trips to the pump, and at least five school systems in the state announced that they would temporarily switch to remote learning because of scarce fuel.

The search for working gas pumps has frayed the nerves of some drivers. Two people were charged with assault after spitting in each other’s faces Tuesday afternoon about spots in a row at a Marathon station in Knightdale, North Carolina, authorities said.

The closure even hit hikers along the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine. They depend on cars and vans to access the trail and get supplies.

“Everyone buys from the same gas pumps here, so the lines are long, some are out – you really have to look for it,” said Ron Brown, who operates Ron’s Appalachian Trail Shuttles.

In Georgia, racetracks and other entertainment options depend on many fans riding from surrounding states like Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, and the concern is that higher gas prices – or shortages – could keep fans at home.

“Fuel prices affect the number of people who come, especially over long distances,” said Sydney Marshall, general manager of South Georgia Motorsports Park in Adel, Georgia, and the Orlando Speed ​​World Dragway in Florida. “It’s definitely a concern of mine because if there’s a gas shortage, people can’t get here.”

(AP)