Colonial Pipeline shutdown prompts reports of fuel shortages 

As 17 states declare emergencies over the Colonial Pipeline shutdown caused by a cyberattack, there are reports of fuel shortages in some parts of the country.

Some AMBEST locations had to put fuel limits of 100 diesel gallons per customer and 30 diesel gallons on gas. 

“Locations are still having concerns meeting the needs of the customers as some areas experience shortage of keeping supplies up as demands of customers’ needs increase. Of course, this is making fuel prices increase rapidly,” said Sylvia Jackson, AMBEST Motorcoach Executive.

She encourages Motorcoach Fleets to plan ahead by checking supplies in their lanes of travel before heading out and to take advantage of the AMBEST United Motorcoach Association Money Saving Fuel Card Program.

‘Push into next week’

David Moon, a fuel management consultant with AmeriFuel, has been responding this week to clients’ requests for more information about how the temporary shutdown of the country’s largest fuel pipeline network will impact their ability to get fuel for their fleets.

On Monday, he was advising them to fill up the tanks of their vehicles. Many of his clients are bus and motorcoach operators.

“This is going to push into next week, and I believe it’s going to push gas prices higher. And some folks won’t be able to get fuel,” Moon said on Wednesday. “I think it’s going to be a huge problem.”

Alan Thrasher, President of Thrasher Brothers Trailways, says he has seen an uptick in prices but fortunately his Birmingham, Alabama business is strategically located. 

“Colonial Pipeline has a big terminal where the pipe passes through Birmingham with lots of huge tank farms,” he said. “Locally they can pull it out and deliver it in trucks. Every fuel truck near here has been utilized to carry fuel from the tanks to the stores to keep supply steady.”

The timing was on the side of Quick’s Bus Co. in Staunton, Virginia, which had just had a tanker fill up its 10,000 gallon underground storage tank a week ago.

“We have already picked up work from other bus companies that are not as fortunate and have to purchase on the road,” said Jason Quick, President of his family-owned business. 

Ransomware attack

The pipeline, which provides about 45% of the fuel used along the Eastern Seaboard, was shut down May 7 by a ransomware attack. The cyberattack halted 2.5 million barrels per day of fuel shipments delivered through the pipeline that runs 5,500 miles (8,850 km) from U.S. Gulf Coast oil refineries to consumers in Mid-Atlantic and Southeast states, reports Reuters.

“I’ve been trying to be proactive versus being reactive, to let these folks know what’s going on,” Moon said. 

AmeriFuel provides access to several wholesale and retail fueling networks — including CFN, Voyager, Pacific Pride and NFS — with the convenience of a single invoice. The firm also processes federal excise tax exemptions on diesel for bus and motorcoach operators, which can result in a savings of 17 cents a gallon. 

Increasing diesel prices

The average national gasoline price rose to above $3 a gallon on Wednesday, the highest since 2014, the American Automobile Association said.

Moon says that supply is usually disrupted by natural disasters or geopolitical events.

“Since January, we have seen gasoline and diesel prices increase by over $1 a gallon due to recent social and political dynamics,” he said. 

The government is trying to calm fears to prevent worried consumers from buying up gas and exacerbating the shortage. A growing number of gas stations along the East Coast are reporting they are out of gasoline, according to GasBuddy, which collects user reports and shares the information with the government during emergencies.

Those include nearly 60% of gas stations in metro Atlanta and more than 70% of stations were out in metro Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, GasBuddy said.

Panicked buying is “running stations in the region dry,” Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy, told CNN Business.

A lesson 

There is a lesson for everyone in this crisis, says Ken Presley, UMA’s Vice President, Legislative & Regulatory Affairs & Industry Relations.

“While this momentary event has likely disrupted travel, every operator should note that the root of this event is rogue computer hackers invading a company’s computer controls for ransom money,” says Presley. “Unfortunately, this happens all too frequently to small businesses that do not dominate headlines, yet their business is disrupted and often their employees and clients confidential information become part of the dark web and the business is compelled to pay a ransom to recover.”

Presley recommends operators take steps to ensure cybersecurity is part of their planning and avoid disruption. They should seek professional advice and act immediately to protect their business, employees, and customers.


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