CLEMMONS, North Carolina (AP) – The nation’s largest fuel pipeline restarted operations on Wednesday, days after it was forced to shut down by a gang of hackers.
The Colonial Pipeline disruption caused long lines to gas stations in the southeast due to distribution issues and purchasing panic, draining supplies to thousands of gas stations.
Colonial initiated the restart of pipeline operations on Wednesday evening, saying in a statement that “all lines, including side lines that have been operated manually, will resume normal operation.”
But it will take several days for deliveries to return to normal, the company said.
In the meantime, drivers have found gas stations with little or no gasoline in some southeastern states.
The Colonial pipeline, which supplies about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit by a cyberattack on Friday by hackers who block computer systems and demand ransom to free them. Hackers did not take control of pipeline operations, but Colonial shut down the pipeline to contain the damage.
The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the country’s critical infrastructure.
“What you are feeling is not a lack of supply or a supply problem. What we have is a transportation problem, ”said Jeanette McGee, spokesperson for the AAA Automobile Club. “There is enough supply to supply the United States for the summer, but what we have is a problem getting them to these gas stations” because the pipeline is down.
The pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metro area, but the southeastern states are more dependent on it. Other parts of the country have more sources to tap into. For example, a significant amount of fuel is delivered to the northeastern states by massive tankers.
Jamar Gatison, 36, was refueling his tank in Norfolk, Va. On Wednesday before a doctor’s appointment.
“I’m about to run out of gas, so I have no choice,” said the construction worker as he stood in line at a 7-Eleven.
“I am also an Uber Eats pilot. I also need gasoline for that, ”said Gatison, who added that he probably won’t deliver food on Wednesday night because he doesn’t want to line up again while the shortage continues.
In North Carolina, more than half of gas stations were out of fuel, according to Gasbuddy.com, a technology company that tracks fuel prices in real time across the country. Just outside Raleigh, two people were charged with assault after fighting and spat in their faces as they competed for their seats in line Tuesday at a gas station in Marathon, the officials said. authorities.
North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper on Wednesday urged people to only buy gas when their tanks are low and to report any instances of price hikes.
“This news is another reason why people don’t need to panic to buy gas now unless they really need it,” he tweeted after Colonial announced the restart of the gas station. gas pipeline.
Georgians and Virginians were also in a hurry, with about half of the stations there running out of gas, according to Gasbuddy.com.
Along the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine through some of the most rugged and remote terrain in the Southeast, hikers depend on car and van shuttles to transport them to and from. the trail and bring them back to civilization.
“If I don’t have gas, I don’t run,” said Ron Brown of Ellijay, Ga., Who operates Ron’s Appalachian Trail shuttles and often takes hikers on hour-long trips from the airport to the city. ‘Atlanta in the mountains of northern Georgia, and to and many points along the trail.
Mary Goldburg, 60, of Norfolk, Va., Waited more than 20 minutes for a slow-running pump in a 7-Eleven to refuel on Wednesday. His job includes delivering t-shirts for events and other promotional products.
“I can’t get paid until my customers receive their products,” Goldburg said.
The disruption comes at a time of year when Americans are starting to become more mobile, especially as the nation emerges from the pandemic.
Four to five cars lined up at each pump on a Circle K in Clemmons, North Carolina. Several people said they went to several gas stations to find one that had gasoline. Across the street, gas stations were running out of fuel.
Mair Martinez, who works in landscaping, was filling his lawn equipment and truck after checking several other gas stations without success.
“This is why we have come today, to fill everything,” he said.
Johnathan King, who works for a towing company in the area, refueled his tow truck. He said he typically makes 10 to 12 service calls per day, driving between several towns in the region.
“It’s going to be very hard for us. I hope we can get there, ”he said.
Several U.S. agencies have coordinated to relax the rules and allow fuel to be shipped faster using trucks, trains or ships, but the changes had little impact on Wednesday.
The White House said the Department of Transportation now allows states served by the pipeline to use interstate highways to carry overweight loads of gasoline and other fuels. But there is a shortage of truckers nationwide, so the industry is unable to put many more trucks on the road.
Across the country, there are approximately 121,000 convenience stores that sell approximately 5,300 gallons of gasoline per day, which represents approximately 80% of retail fuel sales. In many stores, demand has been two to five times the normal amount, said Jeff Lenard of the National Convenience Stores Association, in a conference call with reporters. Retailers were even running out of fuel in parts of Florida that don’t depend on the pipeline, he said.
The rationing was imposed after some natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but there might be resistance to that this time around, especially if it looks like the pipeline could resume normal operation in a few days.
It could backfire on you as well. “Once the rationing is done, more panic ensues,” said Ryan McNutt, CEO of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.
The national average price of a gallon of gasoline exceeded $ 3 for the first time since 2016 on Wednesday, according to the AAA. Prices start to rise around this time every year, and the auto club said on Wednesday the average price was as high as $ 3.008 nationwide.
“You’re going to some states, and you’re going to see much higher increases, especially in the South, because that’s where you see the biggest impact in terms of gas pressure or pressure on people,” McGee said.
Bussewitz reported from New York and Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press editors Frank Bajak in Boston, Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia, David Koenig in Dallas, and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.