Expect higher gas prices from Colonial Pipeline cyberattack

Gas stations in some Southeastern states and along the East Coast were running out of gas this week partly because panicked customers were rushing to fill their tanks after a major pipeline shut down over the weekend.

Some Middle Tennessee gas stations were seeing long lines as customers overwhelmed the pumps to fill up their vehicles, with some also hoarding by filling gas cans, as well.

The FBI says a criminal group called Darkside with ties to eastern Europe was responsible for a ransomware attack against Colonial Pipeline Co. last Friday, prompting the company — not the criminal group — to shut down the pipeline to protect against further criminal activity.

In a ransomware attack, criminals breach a company or government’s cybersecurity and cripple the computer system or steal sensitive data until the victim pays a large ransom.

The run on gas is affecting pump prices. Tennessee gas prices averaged $2.74 earlier this week, up from $2.69 a week ago, according to AAA. Near the Tennessee-Kentucky border town of Portland, at least one station was charging $2.99 per gallon late Tuesday.

It could take days to restore the pipeline company’s operations, officials say, which means gas prices could exceed $3 per gallon. The Georgia-based company has said it hopes to restore service by the end of the week.

“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally,” said Jeanette McGee, AAA spokesperson. “Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases.”

“These states may see prices increase three to seven cents this week,” she said.

While the pipeline, which supplies about 45 percent of fuel to the East Coast, is down, other pipelines and foreign imports are helping keep up with supply. Once the Colonial Pipeline is back in operation, it will take anywhere from 15-18 days for fuel to flow from Texas to New York, according to AAA.

The 5,500-mile pipeline stretches from Texas to New Jersey supplying several states, including Tennessee.

Federal officials relaxed some safety and environmental regulations to allow for faster delivery of fuel by truck and rail lines to the affected states, according to the Associated Press.

While the shutdown has affected gas supply and prices, AAA urged consumers against “panic-buying” of gasoline.