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AAA Texas: Don’t panic at the gas pump

Gasoline to fuel your automobiles is not — and will not be — in short supply in Texas, at least not because of a recent cyberattack on the U.S. Colonial oil pipeline. The disruption in supply has affected the Southeast and Northeast, where pumps have run dry and gas prices are rising.

“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally,” said AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee in a statement. “Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases as early as this week. These states may see prices increase 3 to 7 cents this week.”

In Texas, gas prices have risen about 2 cents a gallon in the past week, according to AAA, to an average of $2.70 per gallon for regular grade, making it the third-cheapest in the country.

Russian hackers known as DarkSide disabled computer systems that operate a 5,500-mile pipeline pumping gas in the Southeast and along the Eastern seaboard from Houston to New York City, according to the FBI. The pipeline does not supply gas to any location west of Texas’ eastern border.

In Atlanta, one out of every five gas stations were reportedly out of fuel as of Monday, May 10. Seven percent of all gas stations in Virginia are now without fuel as are 8 percent in North Carolina and 5 percent in Georgia. 

The nation has plenty of gas, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm assured reporters during a White House briefing Tuesday, May 11.

“We have gasoline. We just have to get it to the right places,” Granholm said. “That’s why I think the next couple of days will be challenging.” 

As word of the gas shortage in areas dependent on the Colonial Pipeline product began to travel to other places, panic buying set in, resulting in long lines at pumps, including some in the Highland Lakes. In fact, panic buying along the Colonial Pipeline is partially to blame for stations running out of gas in that region. That same fear of doing without could drive panic shopping and lead to shortages in areas not directly affected by the pipeline breach. 

According to S&P’s Oil Price Information Service, stations are selling three to four times as much gas as they normally sell a day “because people do panic.” 

“It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” S&P analysis Tom Kloza said in a statement. 

Some 45 percent of the fuel for the East Coast moves through the Colonial Pipeline at a rate of 100 million gallons a day. It has been out of service since May 7 but should be back in operation by the end of this week, according to pipeline officials. Some branches of the pipeline are already back in service. 

“While our mainlines (Lines 1, 2, 3 and 4) remain offline, some smaller lateral lines between terminals and delivery points are now operational,” the company said in an online update of the situation

Some of those smaller lines are being operated manually. In areas hardest hit by gas shortages, Colonial said it was trucking in supply. 

“Since our pipeline system was taken offline, working with our shippers, Colonial has delivered approximately 967,000 barrels (about 41 million gallons) to various delivery points along our system,” the company announced. “Additionally, in preparation for our system restart, we have taken delivery of an additional 2 million barrels (about 84 million gallons) from refineries for deployment upon restart.”

Hackers shut down Colonial Pipeline’s computer in what is called a ransomware attack, demanding a certain amount of money to repair the damage. The pipeline company said it is working on increasing its cybersecurity as well as security along the pipeline route, including aerial patrols.

suzanne@thepicayune.com