Colonial Pipeline intends to restore operations of a vital U.S. fuel pipeline by the end of the week, after a cyberattack forced a shutdown of the infrastructure late last week.
That’s according to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who told reporters at a White House press conference Tuesday the federal government is helping to facilitate the reopening and minimize potential disruptions until then.
The 5,500-mile pipeline system runs from Texas to New Jersey and shuttles more than 100 million gallons of fuel daily, amounting to roughly 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, the company says.
Granholm warned that consumers might feel a “supply crunch” as the company works to resume normal operations, though they should be minimal. She also encouraged consumers to report any price gouging by opportunistic gas station operators to their state’s attorney general.
“Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline,” Granholm said. “Especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend.”
That sentiment was shared by Richard Joswick, head of global oil analytics at S&P Global Platts. Joswick told The Associated Press he wouldn’t expect any major supply disruptions if the pipeline is back online by the end of the week.
“If it does drag on for two weeks, it’s a problem,” Joswick said. “You’d wind up with price spikes and probably some service stations getting low on supply. And panic buying just makes it worse.”
An international criminal gang known as DarkSide carried out the ransomware attack last Friday. In such an attack, hackers infiltrate a network and encrypt critical data, then offer to hand back control of the data if a ransom is paid.
It’s unclear how extensively Colonial Pipeline’s network was infected, or if the company paid a ransom. In a statement Monday, the company said it “proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems.”
The bigger issue here isn’t the temporary delay in fuel delivery, it’s the cybersecurity lapses at Colonial Pipeline ― and countless other companies with similar vulnerabilities ― that made it possible.
“It certainly is a reminder that we need to take a hard look at how we need to harden our necessary infrastructure,” said Granholm. “That includes cyber threats.”
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