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Fossil Fuel Emergency: US Races to Move Gasoline After a Pipeline Hack

It's a regional catastrophe.

Fossil Fuel Emergency: US Races to Move Gasoline After a Pipeline Hack
Several tanker trucks racing gasoline down a highway under the sun. Rasica / iStock

In an effort to delay the effects of a gasoline shortage and subsequent price spike on the East Coast, the Biden Administration just issued an order to enable overtime for some truck drivers moving gasoline, according to a Sunday declaration from the Department of Transportation.

This comes in response to the shutdown of one of the country's most critical fossil fuel pipelines following one of the largest cyberattacks on gas and oil infrastructure in American history.

Fossil fuel shortage could affect the East Coast

Last Friday, Colonial Pipeline said it suffered a critical ransomware attack — forcing it to halt all operations while it worked to secure its IT architecture from hackers. Some of the company's smaller pipelines have resumed service, but as of Monday, the pipeline's main pathways were still shut down for an unspecified timeframe.

"On May 7, the Colonial Pipeline Company learned it was the victim of a cybersecurity attack. We have since determined that this incident involves ransomware," read the statement from the fossil fuel company. "In response, we proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems

The Department of Transportation (DOT) subsequently declared a state of emergency, following the shutdown — and waived requirements for drivers and motor carriers working to circumvent potential shortages from the pipeline shutdown. This means they can drive for more than 11 hours, the typical daily limit — in a collective effort to delay the potential fuel shortages that can happen — since Colonial's pipeline network fuels roughly 45% of all gasoline on the East Coast.

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The DOT said the Colonial pipeline shutdown may create shortages of "gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and other refined petroleum products" — with overtime waivers effective in the following territories: Virginia, Texas, Tennessee, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Noth Carolina, New York, Mississippi, Maryland, Louisiana, Kentucky, Georgia, Florida, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Arkansas, and Alabama.

The East Coast could see pump prices spike in the coming week

"This is the largest impact on the energy system in the United States we've seen from a cyberattack, full stop," said CEO Rob Lee of Dragos, an infrastructure-focused security firm, in a report from Wired. "You have a real ability to impact the electric system in a broad way by cutting the supply of natural gas. This is a big deal." Especially since road and rail transport are far more expensive than pipelines — and there's another caveat to extending road and rail-based supply lines for fossil fuel.

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Colonial's pipeline is integral to the energy infrastructure of the U.S. — stretching more than 5,000 miles (8,047 km) and moving more than 2.5 million gallons of gasoline daily from refineries throughout the Gulf Coast to more than 50 million people on or near the East Coast, the shutdown comes while many are just starting to resume their normal transits to work. If the pipeline doesn't go online in the next several days, analysts have said fuel prices might rise along the Eastern Seaboard — with scattered shortages.

This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.

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