Travel Alert: Cybersecurity Attack May Cause Possible Fuel Shortages — Including for Airplanes — and Higher Gasoline Prices

A cybersecurity attack which involved ransomware prompted the operator of a major pipeline of refined fuel in the United States to halt all operations of its pipeline while contacting law enforcement, the Department of Energy of the United States, and other federal agencies of the incident; and the company is actively in the process of restoring operations as safely and as efficiently as possible while simultaneously minimizing disruptions to customers.

Travel Alert: Cybersecurity Attack May Cause Possible Fuel Shortages — Including for Airplanes — and Higher Gasoline Prices

After learning of the attack on Friday, May 7, 2021, Colonial Pipeline Company quickly and proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which temporarily halted all pipeline operations and affected some of its information technology systems.

“Leading, third-party cybersecurity experts were also immediately engaged after discovering the issue and launched an investigation into the nature and scope of this incident”, according to this official press release from Colonial Pipeline Company. “Maintaining the operational security of our pipeline, in addition to safely bringing our systems back online, remain our highest priorities. Over the past 48 hours, Colonial Pipeline personnel have taken additional precautionary measures to help further monitor and protect the safety and security of its pipeline.”

The press release continues: “The Colonial Pipeline operations team is developing a system restart plan. While our mainlines (Lines 1, 2, 3 and 4) remain offline, some smaller lateral lines between terminals and delivery points are now operational. We are in the process of restoring service to other laterals and will bring our full system back online only when we believe it is safe to do so, and in full compliance with the approval of all federal regulations.”

About Colonial Pipeline Company

Click on the map for an enlarged version. Source: Colonial Pipeline Company.

With approximately 5,500 miles of pipe, Colonial Pipeline is the largest pipeline of refined products in the United States, with greater than 100 million gallons of fuel — or 2.5 million barrels per day — transported daily to meet the energy needs of consumers in 14 states from Houston in Texas to Linden in New Jersey; and the pipeline supplies approximately 45 percent of all fuel consumed on the east coast of the United States while providing refined products to greater than 50 million Americans…

…but the pipeline also supplies refined jet fuel to seven international airports which serve the greater metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Nashville, Charlotte, Greensboro, Raleigh-Durham, Washington Dulles, and Baltimore-Washington — in addition to airports in the greater metropolitan area of New York, which are served via connections with Buckeye Pipeline.

Past Disruptions of Colonial Pipeline

This incident is certainly not the first time which the Colonial Pipeline was disrupted.

Summary

Exactly how this incident will affect and impact the commercial aviation industry in the United States remains unknown at this time — if any impact will occur at all.

Rumors that the supply of fuel may be scarcer than usual this summer — and, thus, increase prices as a result — were predicated on a shortage of greater than 50,000 qualified drivers of tanker trucks who are needed to deliver fuel to service stations as a result of the current 2019 Novel Coronavirus pandemic. Those rumors have yet to be substantiated.

I would not be surprised if two aspects of panic take over: that owners and operators of service stations artificially increase the price of fuel significantly; and that customers start hoarding gasoline, diesel, and other fuel items. This has been a common theme which was learned from the pandemic, with shortages of toilet paper, coins, and ketchup as three of many examples.

Until this situation is indeed resolved, if you are traveling to, in or from the southeastern United States and plan on renting a car which uses gasoline — or if you are driving your own vehicle — over the next few weeks, expect the worst but please do not panic: purchase only the fuel that you need so that other people will have access to it when they need it; and be certain that you are not being subjected to artificially inflated pricing of gasoline by either the rental car company or any fuel station. Keep yourself updated with Internet web sites such as GasBuddy to check on the latest price of a gallon of gasoline in the area in which you plan to drive.

Although this scenario may not happen, expect flights to be delayed or canceled as a result of a possible shortage of jet fuel. Keep yourself informed so that you are not surprised during your travels.

Also, establish that you are more prepared than usual and have enough gasoline in your fuel tank to get you to where you need to go, as some fuel stations may be closed or out of gasoline.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

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