Colonial begins restart of its fuel pipeline after cyberattack. Here’s what to know

·4 min read

Colonial Pipeline initiated plans to restart operations after a cybersecurity attack on Friday halted activity.

In a statement just after 5 p.m., Colonial said it “will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.”

“Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period,” the company said. “Colonial will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.”

Colonial Pipeline CEO Joe Blount had previously indicated the company would be “in the position to make a full restart decision” by the end of the day Wednesday, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday.

The decision Wednesday comes as gas stations across the Southeast have reported fuel shortages as drivers rushed to fill their tanks in response to the shutdown, despite experts saying there’s no need to do so.

Granholm previously explained the possible service interruptions, saying Tuesday that it will still take a few days for operations to ramp back up to full capacity.

“This pipeline has never been shut down before,” Granholm said. “It travels great distances. There is fuel in the pipe and then there is the offtake from the refineries that have to be added.”

About the shutdown

Colonial Pipeline — which supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel — announced Saturday that it had paused all operations in response to a cybersecurity attack involving ransomware.

The FBI later said the cybercrime group DarkSide was behind the attack. The group encrypts victims’ data and threatens to make it public if the victim doesn’t pay a ransom.

Colonial has since restored operations to some of its smaller lines. On Tuesday, the company said it was manually operating additional lines to “deliver existing inventories,” mostly to markets experiencing a supply crunch or markets that are not serviced by other pipelines.

“Since our pipeline system was taken offline, working with our shippers, Colonial has delivered approximately 967,000 barrels (~41 million gallons) to various delivery points along our system,” the company said Tuesday.

The company has also “taken delivery of an additional 2 million barrels from refineries for deployment” in preparation for resuming operations.

Colonial had initially said it planned to “substantially” restore operations by the end of the week.

“While this situation remains fluid and continues to evolve, the Colonial operations team is executing a plan that involves an incremental process that will facilitate a return to service in a phased approach,” Colonial said Monday.

Efforts to restore supply

Colonial Pipeline’s system runs 5,500 miles through the eastern and southern United States.

Economists have said its shutdown has not directly caused a fuel shortage. But panic buying in response to the shutdown has put a strain on supply across the Southeast — with demand up 14.3% across the country, according to Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy.com.

In response, officials have taken steps to try to mitigate the strain.

Some states have declared states of emergency while the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Sunday issued a regional emergency declaration for 17 states along the East Coast and Washington, D.C.

The regional declaration supports “relief efforts related to the shortages of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products” and creates more flexibility for carriers and drivers, including an exemption from hours of service restrictions for those transporting fuel to the region.

Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted short-term waivers for certain gasoline requirements to help “alleviate supply shortages,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told reporters Wednesday.

“We will be doing everything that we can to reduce the impact that some Americans could see at some local gas stations in some areas until the pipeline is brought back online,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said. “Colonial has announced that they’re working toward full restoration by the end of this week but we are not taking any chances. We are doing everything that we can in the interim to move fuel to the places that need it.”

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