WASHINGTON — The White House urged Americans not to hoard gas Tuesday as the Colonial Pipeline, a major supplier of fuel to the Southeast, remained largely shut down for a fifth day following a ransomware attack by hackers on Friday.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that the areas most impacted by the pipeline closure — North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Southern Virginia — would likely experience a "supply crunch" but not a "gasoline shortage."
"Much as there was no cause for hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline especially in light of the fact that pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of the this week and over the weekend," Granholm said, speaking to reporters at the daily White House press briefing.
A small but increasing number of gas stations along the East Coast reported fuel shortages Tuesday, with six states estimated to have gas station outages. Fuel demand for motorists has also jumped over 30 percent in the East in the past week, according to data collected by price and fuel tracker GasBuddy.
By Tuesday evening, GasBuddy was reporting sharper shortages in some key Southern areas. In metro Atlanta, roughly 40 percent of gas stations were out of fuel; 37 percent in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; more than 50 percent of metro Raleigh, North Carolina; and more than 60 percent of stations in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Colonial Pipeline is expected to make a decision by the end of Wednesday on whether to fully restart the pipeline, Granholm said. Still, it will still take a few days for the pipeline to ramp back up to normal production levels.
Granholm acknowledged that "the next few days are going to be challenging" but said that she wanted to encourage the public that "things will be back to normal soon and that we're asking people not to hoard and know that we are all over this."
The Biden administration has looked for alternate ways to deliver fuel to the impacted areas in order to avoid supply shortages.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said Tuesday that the he was preparing to temporarily wave the Jones Act, which would allow foreign-flagged ships and vessels to deliver fuel to the Eastern seaboard, should the need arise.
"That need is not necessarily yet confirmed, but we wanted to be poised at the president's direction to be ready and to be able to act immediately," Mayorkas said.
The Environmental Protection Agency also issued a waiver Tuesday to allow the impacted states to sell non-compliant fuel to boost their available supply. The Department of Transportation is also working to enlist rail operators to transport fuel to the affected areas.
The Biden administration on Sunday also issued an emergency declaration to allow truckers to drive on more overtime hours and less sleep than federal restrictions normally allow in an effort to deliver more oil and gas.
The Colonial Pipeline, which provides nearly half of the gasoline and fuels used on the East Coast, shut down all of its operations Friday after hackers broke into some of its networks.
The attack sparked fresh fears about the vulnerability of the U.S.'s energy infrastructure to cyberattacks and raised concerns about the supply and price of oil and gas.
The FBI said Monday that the culprit of the hack is a strain of ransomware called DarkSide, believed to be operated by a Russian cybercrime gang referred to by the same name.
President Joe Biden said Monday that there was no evidence that the Russian government was involved in the hack.