RALEIGH – A ransomware attack by a Russian cyber group on one of the United States’ largest pipeline operators, shutting down the pipeline that carries nearly half of the fuel supplies for the east coast, has led Governor Roy Cooper to declare a state of emergency in anticipation of potential shortages.
“Today’s emergency declaration will help North Carolina prepare for any potential motor vehicle fuel supply interruptions across the state and ensure motorists are able to have access to fuel,” Cooper said in a statement.
Colonial Pipeline has a massive network of oil product pipelines — over 5,500 miles — that forms a conduit stretching from Houston, Texas all the way to New Jersey. It carries about 45 percent of fuel supplies for the east coast.
The cyber attack itself, attributed to a nefarious Russian hacker group and being investigated by federal agencies and third party cyber security groups, actually targeted the business end of Colonial’s network. However, the entire system had to be shut down, including the computer networks that operate and monitor pumping systems, while the company’s cyber space is awaits an ‘All Clear’ signal from investigators.
Not all of the lines are down, however. In fact, Colonial’s ‘Line 4’ runs from Greensboro, North Carolina, to Woodbine, Maryland is operating under manual pumping control. The fuel line is pumping existing inventories while they last.
To that point, impact on available fuel supplies isn’t necessarily immediate, as regional storage inventories are relatively full. Those inventories should last for a couple of weeks before running low, giving the company time to get the pumps back on line.
Immediate distribution, however, is impacted in many cases. Moreover, the narrative — pipeline hacked > pumps down > impending gas shortage — has taken hold and sparked panic buying that is wiping out supplies at gas stations.
This is crazy. I stopped for gas just now having no idea what was happening. It’s out. People here told me they’d been to other stations and found the same. pic.twitter.com/7LDVdUXPo4
— Greg Suskin (@GSuskinWSOC9) May 11, 2021
Alas, we’ve been conditioned to panic and hoard plenty of times over the last year. Mob mentality is pervasive, and viral, whether it’s toilet paper, gasoline, or Dogecoin.
Actually, North Carolinians (and the east coasters) aren’t too far removed from a fuel scarcity crisis; this same pipeline had a massive breach and spill outside of Huntersville, NC that resulted in shutting down service for an extended time to make repairs. Gas stations around the state and region went dry as end point supplies were exhausted by panic buying and delayed deliveries.
Now, we’ll face the same narrative playing out again for as long as the pipeline remains idle. Local news outlets will focus on rising prices and ‘Out of Gas’ signs, while, curiously, the mainstream media will completely gloss over the national security significance of our vital energy infrastructure was attacked and shutdown by a foreign adversary.