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Colonial Restarts Operations After Cyberattack As Panic-Buying Mounts In Southeast

Cars line up Tuesday at a QuikTrip in Atlanta. The White House said it would ease new restrictions on the shipments of fuel as panic-buying leads to shortages at gas stations across the Southeast after a hack attack shut down a critical pipeline.
Cars line up Tuesday at a QuikTrip in Atlanta. The White House said it would ease new restrictions on the shipments of fuel as panic-buying leads to shortages at gas stations across the Southeast after a hack attack shut down a critical pipeline.

The White House is easing some restrictions on the shipment of gasoline and other fuels by truck as a growing number of gas stations run out of fuel in the Southeast.

The shortage developed after a cyberattack led to the shutdown of a major U.S. fuel pipeline, sparking widespread panic-buying from drivers worried about potential supply disruptions.

According to data from the app GasBuddy, as of Wednesday morning, at least 15% of gas stations have no gasoline in Virginia, Georgia and North Carolina, with South Carolina not far behind.

Those statewide averages don't capture the scope of the problem in certain metro areas, however, as a number of Southern cities are experiencing outages at 75% of their gas stations, or even more.

Meanwhile, the average price of gasoline in the U.S. has topped $3 a gallon for the first time in seven years. Prices had been rising even before the pipeline crisis as the summer driving season coincided with a nationwide economic revival. But analysts said the pipeline hack and fuel hoarding may be adding several cents per gallon, helping push prices over the $3 mark.

The White House on Wednesday said the Department of Transportation would allow states including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky and Virginia to use interstate highways to transport "overweight loads of gasolines."

The Biden administration has already taken a series of actions to deal with the supply disruptions, including temporarily lifting or easing a number of regulations in an attempt to boost the availability of gasoline in affected regions.

The DOT has waived hours-of-work limits for truckers carrying fuel, while the Environmental Protection Agency has eased some gasoline requirements designed to reduce local pollution. The administration is also considering a waiver of the Jones Act, which mandates only U.S.-built ships can deliver between U.S. ports, to allow more ships to help move gasoline up the coast.

Individual states are also easing restrictions and urging calm, telling residents that panicking to run out and buy gasoline is counterproductive.

In Alabama, Gov. Kay Ivey emphasized on Tuesday that "a shortage has not reached Alabama at this time" and that an overreaction would only create a problem for a state that so far had been spared.

In Georgia, Gov. Brian Kemp lifted weight limits for fuel trucks in the state and temporarily suspended the gas tax.

"There is no need to rush to the gas station to fill up every tank you have and hoard gas," Kemp said Tuesday. "With the measures we have taken today, I am hopeful we can get more supply to stations and get through to this weekend when we hope Colonial will return to normal."

Last week, hackers attacked Colonial Pipeline to hold its software systems for ransom. Concerned about what the hackers might be able to do with control of its computer systems, the company shut down its entire pipeline system, which delivers around 45% of the East Coast's gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

That caused a disruption in supplies, raising particular concern for the Southeast, which relies heavily on pipelines and trucks for fuel. (The Northeast can turn to shipments by sea from Europe.)

This news, in turn, caused a run of panic-buying that exacerbated the shortages at affected gas stations and even created shortages at stations that had seen no interruption in their fuel deliveries.

Colonial Pipeline is expected to decide Wednesday on when its full restart begins. It will take several days to resume full operation, and because the fuel in pipelines moves at just a few miles per hour, it will take much longer for service to be fully normalized along the entire pipeline.

The country as a whole does not have a shortage of gasoline, but without the pipeline, distributing the fuel to the areas in greatest need is a major challenge.

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