WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Thursday that the Colonial Pipeline would soon be "reaching full operational capacity" but urged patience because it will take several days for the supply chain to return to normal.
"We will not feel the effects at the pump immediately. This is not like flicking on a light switch," Biden said in remarks at the White House.
"It's going to take some time, and there may be some hiccups," he added. "Still, we expect to see a region by region return to normalcy by this weekend and continuing into next week."
Colonial Pipeline, the country's largest gas pipeline and a major supplier of fuel to the Southeast, said it restarted operations Wednesday evening after the pipeline was closed for nearly six days because of a ransomware attack by a Russia-tied hacker gang known as DarkSide last week.
"Do not get more gas than you need in the next few days," Biden said Thursday. "Panic buying will only slow the process."
Biden also warned gas station owners not to take advantage of the situation and said that he would work with governors and federal agencies to address any price gouging.
"Do not, I repeat, do not try to take advantage of consumers during this time," Biden said.
The Colonial Pipeline hack sparked fresh fears about the vulnerability of the U.S.'s energy infrastructure to cyberattacks, especially as the U.S. is still reeling from last year's SolarWinds cyberattack — a widespread breach that tore into U.S. government agencies and dozens of corporations — as well as a recent attack by Chinese hackers that broke into federal networks.
Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at strengthening the country's cybersecurity by encouraging private companies to take more steps to boost their security.
"The bottom line is that I cannot dictate that the private companies do certain things relative to cybersecurity," Biden said when asked Thursday if corporations should be held more accountable. Colonial Pipeline is privately owned.
"I think it's becoming clear to everyone that we have to do more than what's being done now," he added.
Bloomberg News reported Thursday that Colonial Pipeline paid a $5 million extortion ransom to the hackers. When asked about the report, Biden said, "I have no comment on that."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki also declined to answer questions on whether Colonial Pipeline paid the ransom.
"I refer you to the company for any confirmation or comment," Psaki said. "It continues to be the position of the federal government, the FBI, that it is not in the interest of the private sector for companies to pay ransom because it incentives these actions."