Sunday, June 20

The ‘hacked’ pipeline is back in operation but panic kills gasoline in the southeastern US.


New York Correspondent

Updated:

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A little more than a year ago, the panic over confinement due to the Covid-19 pandemic caused Americans to jump into hoarding basic necessities. Rolls of toilet paper flew, as if the country was going to crawl into a bunker for months. Now, what is in short supply in part of the country is gasoline. The problem this time has not been the virus, but a combination of human factors: the cyberattack that is considered the largest oil pipeline in the country and buyer panic reaction.

Since last Friday the Colonial Pipeline pipeline, which supplies fuel to the Southeast of the United States and connects the refineries in the Houston (Texas) area with industrial centers in that region of the country until its end in New Jersey and the port of New York. The reason, a cyberattack that penetrated their computer systems. The hackers demanded a ransom in exchange for ending their access to the Colonial Pipeline databases.

The issue has caused an energy crisis in the US due to the collapse of an oil pipeline that ships 2.5 million barrels every day. On Wednesday, with the intervention of the White House and the Department of Energy, the company announced that the pipeline would start operating again. A full restoration of fuel flow, however, will take days to recover. By then, in any case, panic had broken out and gasoline was in short supply in an area that spans eleven states. In them, at least 12,000 gas stations were left without a drop of fuel, a tragedy in a country highly dependent on the car.

The worst affected state was North Carolina, where 65% of gas stations ran dry. In Georgia, Virginia, and South Carolina, more than 43% of gas stations suffered shortages.

The image that was repeated, from Alabama to New JerseyIt was the endless queues at gas stations, customers filling cans of fuel, stations closed and drivers burning gasoline, from one place to another, trying to find a still active pump.

The panic led to gasoline priced over three dollars per gallon (3.7 liters), which was not seen since 2014. Such a sudden rise in fuel prices is only experienced in situations such as major hurricanes.

The authorities tried to respond with calls for calm – the shortage even affected Florida, which is not supplied by the Colonial Pipeline pipeline – and with a reinforcement of preparations to ensure that fuel will arrive. If the shortage lasts for more days, it could have a bigger impact: from prevent planes from taking off from the Atlanta airport -the busiest in the country-, that public transport works or that the production of chemicals be cut.

Shortly after the cyber attack, the FBI attributed it to DarkSide, a criminal group that penetrates computer systems of companies or individuals to extort money from them. DarkSide operates from Russia, but it is not clear that it has a relationship with the Kremlin, as the US has determined in other cyberattacks, such as the one suffered last year by dozens of companies and public bodies through SolarWinds software.

Colonial Pipeline leaked to several US media that its intention was not to pay the required ransom, at least for now.

The episode is being used politically by both parties: Republicans demand that the country reinforce its energy independence – that is, that it bet less on renewables, as the Biden Administration– while Democrats take it as an incident that justifies the infrastructure improvement that the US president is pursuing with his ambitious spending plans.

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