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Drivers start scrambling for gas as pipeline shutdown continues

Panic buying causes gas shortages after cyberattack
Panic buying causes gas shortages after pipeline cyberattack 03:40

Drivers along parts of the East Coast are feeling the immediate effects of the Colonial Pipeline shutdown following a ransomware attack. Some waited an hour or more on lines at gas stations before filling up or learning the pumps had run dry.

The Biden administration is imploring drivers not to hoard gasoline. The U.S. energy secretary urged motorists to not panic buy fuel and said officials are considering moving supply by train or ship if necessary.

In Marion, South Carolina, Yasheeka Wiggins said, "It was unbelievable. When I was driving today, I thought it was a catastrophe coming! I've seen all these cars waiting and I was like, 'OMG. I have to fill my tank up!'"

CBS affiliate WBTW-TV reported that lines at stations from Marion and Mullins to Myrtle Beach.

A line at a gas station in Florence, South Carolina, on May 10, 2021. CBS affiliate WBTW-TV

The South was being hit hardest. Late Monday, almost 6.5% of gas stations in Virginia were out of fuel, according to travel app GasBuddy. It said more than 1% of stations in North Carolina and Florida had no gas.

Governors from North Carolina, Georgia and Virginia have declared a state of emergency. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper suspended some regulations to make sure the state has enough fuel. Meanwhile, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp suspended the gasoline tax and availability may not be the only issue.

"If this outage goes past the end of the week ... prices could spike pretty dramatically," said Kevin Book of Clearview Energy Partners.

"It's very difficult to pin the exact amount prices may rise, but for now, it appears to be a few cents per gallon, possibly growing more significant if the pipeline remains shut down for more than 2-3 more days," GasBuddy said in a blog post on Monday.

Prices were already edging up before the cyber intrusion, due to growing consumer demand and resurgent economic growth. Over the last week, the national average for a regular gallon of gas has risen six cents to $2.96, according to AAA. Should that trend continue, an increase of three more cents would bring the average to $2.99, which would be the priciest gas since November 2014, the auto club said.

Around the nation, gas prices ranged from a high of $4.10 in California to a low of $2.61 in Mississippi, according to AAA.

American Airlines said on Tuesday that it has been forced to add refueling stops for two of its long-haul flights.

The 5,500-mile pipeline delivers roughly 45% of the fuels used on the East Coast.

Holding tanks are seen in an aerial photograph at Colonial Pipeline's Dorsey Junction Station
Holding tanks are seen in an aerial photograph at Colonial Pipeline's Dorsey Junction Station in Woodbine, Maryland, on May 10, 2021. DRONE BASE / REUTERS

The FBI says a group of Russian cyber criminals who call themselves DarkSide is behind the disruption. The pipeline company was forced to pause the line's operations after the hackers accessed its computer systems.

President Biden said Monday that he doesn't think the Russian government is to blame.

"I'm going to be meeting with President Putin and so far, there is no evidence-based on, from our intelligence people, that Russia is involved. Although there's evidence that the actors, ransomware, is in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this."

U.S. officials and Colonial Pipeline say they hope to get fuel flowing fully again later this week. They insist there's no significant shortage yet.

Colonial Pipeline's website was down Tuesday morning but has since been restored after users are prompted to click a box verifying they are a legitimate website visitor.

The company said in a Tuesday evening notice that it has delivered approximately 967,000 barrels (or approximately 41 million gallons) to "various delivery points along our system," including regions such as Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Maryland and New Jersey. The company also said it has increased "aerial patrols" of its pipeline and implemented an increased amount of personnel to "walk and drive ~5,000 miles of pipeline each day."

Experts tell CBS News that 10,000 trucks are hauling fuel every day to make up for the pipeline being shut down.

Laura Podesta, Jeff Pegues and Peter Martinez contributed to this report.

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