U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Friday, May 14, that a cyberattack forced the shutdown of the nation’s largest pipeline, causing a shortage of fuel supply at several gas stations across the United States in recent days. However, the most difficult phase has passed as the pipeline resumed supply on May 12. She expects that affected gas stations are expected to resume normal service by the evening of this Sunday (May 16).
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, Granholm said the consequences of the cyber attack were most severe on the night of Thursday, May 13; and that service should be back to normal in most areas by the end of the week. She talked about how, as of Friday night, outages at gas stations had dropped about 12 percent from their peak and were returning to normal at a rate of about 200 gas stations per hour. As a result, normal supplies will be fully restored at gas stations everywhere in the next few days.
According to CNN, Colonial Pipeline said in its official tweet that the pipeline resumed normal operations on May 15, since the pipeline was launched on May 12 to restore supply to the system. Colonial Pipeline has 5,500 miles of oil transmission pipelines and is currently delivering fuel to locations at a rate of five miles per hour.
On May 7, cyber hackers blocked Colonial Pipeline’s computer systems and demanded a ransom equivalent to $5 million in Bitcoin. The hackers did not take control of the pipeline’s operations at the time, although the company shut down its systems in an emergency to prevent malware from potentially continuing to attack the control system for industrial production. The attack caused gasoline shortages at stations throughout the southeastern United States and increased gas prices. The affected area also included the capital city of Washington, D.C.
Founded in the early 1960s and headquartered in Georgia, Colonial Pipeline Company is the largest pipeline delivery system for refined petroleum products in the United States. Its two pipelines, totaling 5,500 miles, carry the equivalent of three million barrels of refined products per day from Texas to New York State, equivalent to 45 percent of the total gasoline consumed on the East Coast.
Granholm, like other Biden administration officials, urged the public not to panic nor to stockpile oil. “If everyone hoarded oil, it would exacerbate the current shortage of gasoline. Let’s share a little with our neighbors. Everyone should know that the situation will change in a few days.”
In response to the incident, Granholm said it not only exposed the vulnerability of cyber security in the U.S. infrastructure, but also reminded the public about the security of personal computers. “Cyber attacks are happening everywhere,” she said, “and cyber criminals have evolved to the cloud and the crimes that come with Internet connectivity, so we have to be very careful.” She added that President Biden has signed an executive order on cybersecurity this week and that the Energy Department and other agencies are working to protect critical infrastructure.
Much of the U.S. oil pipeline infrastructure is privately owned. Richard Glick, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees interstate pipelines, said this week that the U.S. should establish mandatory cybersecurity standards for pipelines similar to those for the electric power sector. He said, “In the face of the growing number and sophistication of malicious cyber players, it is not enough to simply encourage pipeline companies to voluntarily adopt industry best practices.”