Colonial Pipeline said Wednesday that it has resumed gas pipeline operations after it was forced to halt after being hit with a cyberattack last week.
The shut-off of the pipeline, the primary fuel conduit serving the East Coast, spurred many people on the east coast and in the southeast into panic-buying — with some hoarding gas — and drained supplies at thousands of gas stations.Average gas prices are above $3, and some stations in the Southeast are running out or low on fuel.
Across the state of North Carolina, for example, 71% of stations were out of gas as of Wednesday evening, according to fuel-savings app GasBuddy. In the Atlanta area, it was also about 71%.
Although there was no gasoline shortage, there was a problem getting the fuel from refineries on the Gulf Coast to the states that need it, and officials were scrambling to find alternate routes to deliver it.
The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region, but states in the Southeast are more reliant on it. The pipeline transports 2.5 million barrels of petroleum a day, including gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, home heating oil and fuel for the U.S. military.
It the largest oil products pipeline in the United States.
The pipeline was set to resume operations around 5 p.m. ET, but the company said “it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”
People will likely see the gas outage numbers peak 48 hours for now as the pipeline resumes over the next couple of days, Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told USA TODAY.
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“A lot of people aren’t going to hear about this very quickly,” De Haan said. “People have jobs, they’re out and about — behavior won’t necessarily immediately change.” This will lead to shortages continuing until later this week, when they may go up again due to weekend demand.
“I think that by Memorial Day or shortly after, that it won’t be such a project to fill your tank back up,” he added.
Why the long wait? De Haan points to the many layers of the refueling process.
Firstly, especially in southeastern states, the lack of truck drivers to transport fuel from large regional holding tanks to local stations has led to the first level of shortages beyond just the shutdown, he said.
Susan Grissom, chief industry analyst at American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, alsopointed to a disruption in the supply chain and challenges in how to deliver it across the East Coast amid the Colonial Pipeline’s disruption.
“It takes time to regroup massive quantities of product and efficiently make deliveries to more remote areas that are supplied by the Colonial; figuring out the time and logistics takes some time,” Grissom said.
That goes back to the core issue which is causing these shortages: panic buying, De Haan said.
“People are filling up at a breakneck pace,” said De Haan. “There’s just no way that stations can stay anywhere near caught up.”
Though panic buying may cease towards the end of this week, it may go up again as people fuel up for the weekend. Then, it will take a while for stations to get caught up with supply.
“I’m optimistic the situation will resolve quickly, motorists could help the situation by holding off for a day or two to let stations refuel faster,” De Haan said on Twitter. “This is terrific news ahead of what is likely to be a very hot summer for demand.”
This is the first time that Colonial has publicly announced a cyberattack. It’s unclear if there have been other hack attempts, but the company has had plenty of other stoppages or problems, largely due to hurricanes, pipe leaks, earthquakes and explosions.
Many have been minor. In 2012, Colonial had to shut down one of its main lines after reports of a gasoline odor near the company’s Moccasin Bend facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Following that incident, it was discovered that about 500 gallons of fuel had leaked near the Tennessee River.
Contributing: Brett Molina, Nathan Bomey and Gabriela Miranda, USA TODAY; The Associated Press