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Will your town be hit with a gas shortage? Concern abounds after Colonial Pipeline debacle

Worries are growing that the pipeline’s prolonged shutdown could create a nationwide gas shortage.

Will your town be hit with a gas shortage? Concern abounds after Colonial Pipeline debacle
[Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images]
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After Colonial Pipeline—which oversees the country’s largest pipeline system, running fuel and gasoline across 5,500 miles of land from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast—was struck by a ransomware attack last week, concern is rampant that the pipeline’s prolonged shutdown could create a nationwide gas shortage.

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Could that affect you? Read on . . .

Remind me, what happened?

For-profit ransomware group DarkSide seized control of Colonial Pipeline’s computer operations on May 7, in what was the largest cyberattack on oil infrastructure in United States history. The entire network was forced to shut down and has yet to power back up. In the meantime, thousands of gas stations spanning Texas to New York had their central artery cut off.

Got it. How bad is the problem?

Pretty bad. The pipeline supplies nearly half of all East Coast driving and flying fuel.

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Does that mean there will be a shortage?

With the service glitch stretching into day 6, many areas are starting to see lower stock and higher prices for gas, which was expected. But the shortages are likely much worse than necessary due to hordes of panic buyers guzzling up supply. According to the head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, a Boston-based app for checking real-time fuel prices, 65% of gas stations in North Carolina, 44% in Virginia, and 43% in Georgia and South Carolina have been emptied out. (The app itself has been crashing under record traffic.) Several states have declared a state of emergency.

Um, how do you hoard gasoline?

Good question! People are apparently filling every car and tank they own. Social media is flooded with images of customers funneling gas into crates and barrels, whether meant for fuel or not:

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That’s happening even as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm urged Americans to ease up on gas consumption during a White House briefing on Tuesday. On Wednesday, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a new warning: “Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline.”

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Wow, okay. What about my town?

BBC World has a handy map showing where the pipeline crosses. Major metropolitan areas include Meridian, Mississippi; Atlanta, Georgia; and Charlotte, North Carolina. If you’re anywhere along the route, you could become collateral damage.

When will it end?!

Colonial Pipeline has said it hopes to resume service by the end of this week. Thank goodness.