The colonial pipeline resumed late Wednesday, allowing oil supplies to reach the eastern states of the US five days after a cyber attack triggered a outage that triggered a run on fuel at gas stations.
Colonial said it began a restart of operations at approximately 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time, but warned it would “take several days for the supply chain for product delivery to return to normal.”
Jennifer Granholm, the US energy secretary, confirmed the resumption of flows in a tweet, writing that she had just spoken by phone with the CEO of the Colonial Pipeline company.
The 5,500-mile pipeline system has a capacity for 2.5 million barrels of fuel per day and is a critical artery supplying liquid fuels from oil refineries to states along the East Coast. It was shut down last Friday after what the FBI said was a ransom attack by a hacking group called DarkSide.
The shutdown pushed the average US gasoline price above $ 3 a gallon on Wednesday, the highest level since 2014. Gasoline futures fell about 1 percent on Wednesday evening, to $ 2.14 a gallon, after Colonial announced the pipeline restart.
Panic purchases in some locations in the southeastern US led to shortages, with two-thirds of North Carolina gas stations reporting on Wednesday afternoon that they were out of gas because drivers hoard fuel, according to data provider GasBuddy.
“Now Americans can finally have some peace of mind that gasoline, diesel and jet fuel will return to the affected areas,” said Patrick De Haan, chief of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
However, it will take time to return the pipeline, which previously used nearly half the fuel used on the East Coast, to its previous service level. Colonial said some of its markets could experience “intermittent service outages during the start-up period.”
“Colonial will carry as much gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until the markets return to normal,” he added.
Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic industry initiatives at NACS, a convenience store trade association, warned that fuel travels along the pipeline at speeds of 3-5 mph – or about 160 miles per day – meaning it will take some time before fuel in the Gulf Coast to reach the Northeast.
“I mean, it’s walking pace, so if you want to know how long it will take, walk [from New York] to Houston. You’ll have to wear serious shoes, ”Lenard said.
European fuel exporters had started chartering ships to increase shipments to the US, while the Biden administration relaxed some rules in recent days to allow more fuel made elsewhere in the country to be shipped to eastern states or could be transported by truck.