Gasoline Pipeline Hack Causes Fuel Shortage on East Coast

Last week, hackers began a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline, a major conduit that supplies nearly half of the East Coast’s oil. The hack completely shut down petroleum transportation as the Colonial Pipeline Company “proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat, which has temporarily halted all pipeline operations, and affected some of our IT systems.” Although the company expects to have most of its capabilities returned by the end of the week, the shutdown has resulted in gasoline shortages that have left many drivers nervous.

For instance, 12 percent of gas stations in North Carolina have no gasoline while 8.6 percent of Virginia filling stations are also without supplies. Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina are experiencing similar shortages, some of which has been aggravated by panic buying from anxious consumers. According to experts, such “irrational behavior” has the potential to prolong the problem for weeks. “People are taking their entire family fleet of vehicles to the gas station and filing up when they don’t need to,” said Tiffany Wright of AAA Carolinas. “We are our own worst enemy in this situation because we are over-consuming at the pump.”

As a result, officials are pleading with Americans not to stock up on gasoline. “Let me emphasize that much as there was no cause for say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, “especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend.” As demand for gasoline shot up by 20 percent at the beginning of the week, gas prices similarly rose to their highest levels in nearly six years. The petroleum market should return to normal once the Colonial Pipeline is operational again, as long as consumers do not continue to overdraw from the nation’s filling stations. 


  1. What is the cause of the current gasoline shortage affecting the East Coast?
  2. Why could the current fuel shortage potentially continue for weeks? 

Source: Matt Egan, “Gasoline demand spikes in several states after pipeline hack,” CNN, May 12, 2021; Andrew Morse, “Gas shortage 2021? What you really need to know about the pipeline hack,” May 12, 2021.