Scores of vehicles line up to enter a gasoline station as demand for fuel surges following the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline, in Durham, North Carolina, US, on May 12 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN DRAKE
Scores of vehicles line up to enter a gasoline station as demand for fuel surges following the cyberattack that crippled the Colonial Pipeline, in Durham, North Carolina, US, on May 12 2021. Picture: REUTERS/JONATHAN DRAKE

After a six-day outage, the top US fuel pipeline on Thursday moved some of the first millions of gallons of fuel after a crippling cyberattack led to shortages across East Coast states.

The Colonial Pipeline, which carries 100-million gallons per day of petrol, diesel and jet fuel, resumed computer-controlled pumping late on Wednesday after adding safety measures. It will take several days for deliveries to fully recover and interruptions are possible, the company said.

The shutdown caused petrol shortages and emergency declarations from Virginia to Florida, led two refineries to curb production, and had airlines reshuffling some refuelling operations.

The pipeline’s restart should bring supplies to some hard-hit areas on Thursday, said US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm. She predicted petrol shortages could end in a couple of days.

“Relief is coming,” added Jeanette McGee, a spokesperson for the American Automobile Association (AAA).

Motorists’ tempers frayed as panic buying led stations to run out even where supplies were available. The average national petrol price rose above $3 a gallon, the highest since October 2014, the AAA said, and prices in some areas jumped as much as 11c in a day.

As FBI cybersleuths dug into an attack that paralysed a large part of the US energy infrastructure, the group believed to be responsible said it was publishing data from breaches at three other companies, including an Illinois technology firm.

It was not known how much money the hackers were seeking, and the pipeline operator has declined to comment. Colonial has a type of insurance that typically covers ransom payments, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters on Thursday.

To stem fuel shortages, four states and federal regulators relaxed fuel driver restrictions to speed up deliveries of fresh supplies. Georgia suspended a sales tax on petrol until Saturday.

The US also issued a waiver to an undisclosed shipper allowing it to transport petrol and diesel from the US Gulf Coast to East Coast ports on foreign-flagged vessels. The US restricts deliveries between domestic ports to US-built and crewed vessels.

Gulf Coast refiners that move fuel to market on the Colonial Pipeline had cut processing as an alternative pipeline filled to capacity last weekend. Total trimmed production at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery and Citgo Petroleum pared back at its plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Airlines began refuelling planes at their destinations instead of usual departure points. On Wednesday Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said more fuel would be available “hopefully by the end of the week and as long as those predictions come true, hopefully we’ll be OK”.

Reuters

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