About 37% of Myrtle Beach gas stations without gasoline after cyberattack on pipeline causes panic buying

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MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW / AP) — About 37% of Myrtle Beach gas stations are without gasoline after the largest U.S. fuel pipeline was hit by a cyberattack and forced to halt operations.

Add that to a big jump in gasoline prices this past week, and people are starting to worry. It’s not a question of whether the local gas station has a line, but how long is the line and do they have any gas left.

The Colonial Pipeline, the biggest fuel pipeline in the U.S., delivering about 45% of what is consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure.

The company closed the 5,500 hundred mile pipe that runs through 12 states including the Carolinas. It transfers around 45 percent of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.

At the moment, though, officials said there is no fuel shortage. Colonial said it’s likely to restore service on the majority of its pipeline by Friday.

There’s no imminent shortfall, and thus no need to panic buy gasoline, said Richard Joswick, head of global oil analytics at S&P Global Platts. If the pipeline is restored by Friday, there won’t be much of an issue. “If it does drag on for two weeks, it’s a problem,” Joswick added. “You’d wind up with price spikes and probably some service stations getting low on supply. And panic buying just makes it worse.”

South Carolina’s average price for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel spiked eight cents overnight to $2.82, according to AAA data.

Government officials acted swiftly to waive safety and environmental rules to speed the delivery of fuel by truck, ship or rail to motorists and airports, even as they sought to assure the public that there was no cause for alarm.

The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline jumped 6 cents over the past two weeks to $3.02 per gallon.

A large part of the pipeline resumed operations manually late Monday, and Colonial anticipates restarting most of its operations by the end of the week, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.

Motorists may still feel a crunch because it takes a few days to ramp up operations, but she said there is no reason to hoard gasoline.

“We know that we have gasoline; we just have to get it to the right places,” she said.

S&P’s Oil Price Information Service put the number of gas stations encountering shortages at more than 1,000.

“A lot of that is because they’re selling three or four times as much gasoline that they normally sell in a given day, because people do panic,” said Tom Kloza, an analyst with S&P. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper has issued a State of Emergency allowing for fuel transportation waivers. “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.

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