Fears of a widespread gas shortage in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic should be fading away now that one of the US’s largest oil pipelines is running again. A cyberattack on the systems of the Colonial Pipeline brought the oil that flows to much of the US to a halt last Friday. Amid fears of a gas shortage, many people in the region rushed to the pump to fill up their tanks.
Some alarmists were even seen filling multiple jerricans with gasoline. Images of people hoarding gas in unsafe containers went viral on social media throughout the week. Many compared the situation to the toilet paper shortage of 2020 when fears of stock issues created actual stock issues.
Gas doesn’t move that quickly through a pipeline. According to experts, the gas is only moving at about five miles per hour through the pipe, about as fast as the average person walks. However, many experts are hoping that the news that the gas is flowing again is enough to convince people to stop panic buying the reserves of gas that are already present throughout the Southeast.
Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina, in particular, have been experiencing real shortages of gas thanks to panic buying. According to Gas Buddy, throughout parts of the week upwards of 65 percent of gas stations in North Carolina were reporting that they were completely out of gas. Roy Cooper, the governor of North Carolina, publicly urged drivers to only buy gas if they were running low.
The shutdown was instigated by a ransomware attack by Eastern European hacking collective DarkSide. Ransomware is a form of computer virus that hijacks computer systems and encrypts digital information, threatening to delete a computer’s contents unless the victims fork over a huge sum of cash.
Colonial told the hackers to buzz off, however, shutting down the pipeline to mitigate the damage the criminals could cause to the energy grid on the East Coast. Working with the FBI, Colonial restored functionality without giving into DarkSide’s demands.
The US intelligence community has expressed concerns about the country’s infrastructure being uniquely vulnerable to these kinds of attacks. Since the world is now largely interconnected and online, malicious hackers can cause serious damage to the power grid by targeting infrastructure like oil pipelines.
Shoring up the country’s cybersecurity should be a primary focus of US infrastructure going forward. Otherwise, temporary gas shortages will be the least of our worries.