Americans are deeply anxious after the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack halted the delivery of millions of gallons of fuel to several states and resulted in gasoline shortages at many stations across the country. People have already started to panic buy and hoard gasoline gallons despite skyrocketing prices at the pump. The situation is being compared to the gas shortages seen in 1970, with dozens of drivers lining up their cars outside stations and even traveling to other states to fill in their tanks. Although Colonial announced in a statement that it is set to repair its system by the weekend, with each passing day, consumers are getting more alarmed with the prospect of facing further sharp price increases, and they have been fearing they could run out of supply indefinitely.
From North Carolina to Florida and Alabama, shortages are already being reported and drivers are seeing pump restrictions and closed gas stations in numerous major cities. Even before the cyberattack closed the pipeline, US gasoline supplies were compromised several times over the past twelve months. The Texas storms, the shipping container shortage, and a series of supply chain disruptions have helped to maintain gas prices at historical highs, nearing $3. And just last week, the national gas price average jumped another seven cents, surpassing that figure and marking the highest price since November 2014.
According to AAA, if the trend continues, we may see prices climbing even higher. “The travel making a comeback after the [health crisis] and spring fuel costing more – so those were two factors already increasing our gas prices and then we had the shortage that continues, the shortage of delivery drivers to be able to get to gas stations,” AAA Western & Central New York Communications Specialist April Engram explained.
Engram outlined the ransomware attack only aggravated the problems the industry has been experiencing, and ‘it’s going to definitely impact our supply and gas prices across the nation,’ she said. The expert is urging people not to engage in panic buying of gas and focus on different ways to conserve fuel. Another specialist with the agency, AAA Midatlantic Public and Government Affairs Manager, Martha Meade, is warning drivers in Virginia not to hoard on gas since no one knows when the system will be back online, and “the longer the shutdown lasts, the worse the impacts are,” so “make sure you have gas in your tank but do not panic buy,” Meade emphasized.
But most drivers are getting nervous about the idea of having to go through prolonged periods of time without any fuel, particularly because even after the pipeline is back up and running again, it will still take 15-18 days to get fuel from Texas to New York, according to Meade. Other experts are warning that if the pipeline is not up and running in the next 24 hours, we would see a 10, 20, or even 30 cent increase in gas prices. In Northwest Florida, gas stations owners’ were price-gouging customers by selling regular gas for $4.29/gallon, according to Renee Beninate. Meanwhile, given the escalating gas crisis and growing fears that the pipeline shutdown could linger for much longer than expected, the US government is now investigating the possibility of a state-linked hack, and all inter-agency are keeping a close eye on the Kremlin after a new hacker group called “DarkSide” was uncovered by officials on Monday.
The group conducts a “double extortion,” meaning that the attackers not only encrypt and block the victim’s data, but they also steal it and threaten to publish it on the DarkSide Leaks site if companies don’t pay the ransom. Ransom demands range from $200,000 to $20 million. In face of the upheaval caused by the group, Senator Angus King, and Representative Mike Gallagher, who are co-chairs of the CyberSpace Solarium Commission, stated that “this interruption of the distribution of refined gasoline and jet fuel underscores the vulnerability of our national critical infrastructure in cyberspace and the need for effective cybersecurity defenses”.
Just as during the Texas freeze and other global supply chain issues, one single disruption was all that it took to trigger a major systemic failure all over the country. Americans are about to see a hyperinflationary spike like no other, as commodity prices are on the rise, we’re witnessing 70s-like gas shortages and widespread scarcity of several goods, while prices never cease to soar. We should all prepare for the worst given that the panic-buying frenzy just started yesterday, and it has already distressed supply chains to the point of sparking acute gas shortages. Tomorrow, things won’t be any better. So pay close attention to how these events roll out because very dark times are approaching.