Massive replenishment begins to ease US fuel shortages

A plastic bag covering a fuel pump to signal no gas is available is seen at a gas station after a cyberattack crippled the biggest fuel pipeline in the country, run by Colonial Pipeline, in Lakeland, Florida, U.S. May 14, 2021.  REUTERS/Octavio Jones

(Reuters)


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WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Motorists in southeast U.S. states on Saturday continued to hunt for fuel as a massive replenishment effort took hold, helping ease shortages from a cyberattack that cut supplies from Florida to New Jersey.

The six-day Colonial Pipeline shutdown was the most disruptive cyberattack on record. Widespread panic buying continued days after the pipeline network restarted, leaving filling stations across the U.S. Southeast out of gas.

More than 14,000 gas stations surveyed by fuel tracking app GasBuddy were experiencing outages, down from a peak of 16,200 early on Friday. The nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded was $3.04, from $2.95 a week ago, according to AAA.

An effort that involved ships under emergency waivers moving fuel from U.S. Gulf Coast refiners to the northeast and 18-wheel tanker trunks ferrying gasoline from Alabama to Virginia helped to stem the losses.

In Washington, D.C., Dennis Li was stuck on Friday at a Sunoco gas station that was out of fuel. He had tried to find gas at four stations during the day, with no luck.

"I'm running on empty to the point where I don't want to drive anymore," said Li, who is from Annapolis, Maryland.

Nicholas Swann had driven from his home in Washington to Bethesda to get gasoline, where the wait was 15 minutes.

"We were originally going to drive out to the beach this weekend but we don't know if we will, because I can't make it there and back on one tank of gas," Swann said.

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Initial breach unkown

The hacking group blamed for the attack, DarkSide, said it had hacked four other companies including a Toshiba subsidiary in Germany.

Colonial Pipeline has not determined how the initial breach occurred, a spokeswoman said this week. The 5,500-mile pipeline carries 100 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel per day from Texas refineries to East Coast markets.

Colonial has not disclosed how much money the hackers were seeking or whether it paid. Bloomberg News and the New York Times reported that it paid nearly $5 million to hackers.

Steve Boyd, a senior managing director at fuel delivery firm Sun Coast Resources, estimated that with gasoline moving on the pipeline at half Colonial's normal speed, it could take 12 to 20 days for new deliveries to reach the northern-most point in Linden, New Jersey.

Sun Coast has 75 trucks taking supplies from terminals in Alabama and Georgia to retailers as far away as Virginia.

"If customers need us for another week or three weeks, we'll be there," said Boyd.

(By Stephanie Kelly in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Timothy Gardner in Bethesda, Maryland; additional reporting by Laura Sanicola, Joe Menn and Liz Hampton; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

© Copyright Thomson Reuters 2021

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