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Low Supply At Gas Pumps Continues In North Carolina Following Colonial Pipeline Cyberattack

Pipeline Cybersecurity Attack
Chris Carlson
A hand-written sign is posted on a gas pump, showing that the service station is out of all grades of fuel Wednesday, May 12, 2021, in Charlotte, N.C. Several gas stations in the Southeast reported running out of fuel, primarily because of what analysts say is unwarranted panic-buying among drivers, as the shutdown of a major pipeline by hackers entered its fifth day.

Updated 5/13/21 at 9:42 a.m.

A run on gas following a computer hack of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had North Carolina tow-truck driver Jonathan King worried about whether he could do his job.

“I drive all over the place,” King said at a packed gas station outside Winston-Salem on Wednesday. “It gets really busy. And yeah, with the fuel going the way it’s going, it’s going to be very hard for us. Hopefully we’ll be able to get through it.”

The cybersecurity attack on the Colonial Pipeline has prompted fuel-hoarding and panic-buying in parts of the Southeastern U.S., striking fear and stress among those who've waited in long lines for gas. And while Colonial initiated the restart of pipeline operations late Wednesday, the company said it will take several days for deliveries to return to normal.

The scene at gas stations was far from typical Wednesday after governors of both North Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency to help ensure supply and access to gas.

Seventy-one percent of gas stations in North Carolina don't have any gas, according to an update Thursday morning from GasBuddy, a technology firm that tracks real-time fuel prices across the country.

Just outside Raleigh, two people were charged with assault after fighting and spitting in each other’s faces while arguing over their spots in line Tuesday at a Marathon gas station, authorities said.

Mike Whalen, vice president of the Whalen Corporation which owns three gas stations in Raleigh, says those stations are out of fuel and only their convenience stores are operational.

"We're out of gas. That's the end result of what has happened," said Whalen. "The ransom-type situation, is that going to happen again?"

Whalen says he is hoping that the next supply of gas doesn't prompt another mad dash of customers to his stations.

Governor Roy Cooper urged North Carolinians not to rush to fill their tanks and asked residents to report gasoline price gauging.

“We will continue our efforts to help make sure there is an adequate supply of fuel,” Cooper wrote on Twitter.

A Critical East Coast Supply Line

The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

The pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region, but states in the Southeast are more reliant on the pipeline. Other parts of the country have more sources to tap. For example, a substantial amount of fuel is delivered to states in the Northeast by massive tankers.

“What you’re feeling is not a lack of supply or a supply issue. What we have is a transportation issue,” said Jeanette McGee, spokeswoman for the AAA auto club. “There is ample supply to fuel the United States for the summer, but what we’re having an issue with is getting it to those gas stations because the pipeline is down.”

Naomi Prioleau joined WUNC in January 2017.
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