East Coast Fuel Delivery Progresses, Cross-Sector Action Needed to Meet Demand
Posted May 12, 2021
Since the Colonial Pipeline Company experienced a ransomware attack last Friday, the natural gas and oil industry has worked with government to bring a critical piece of infrastructure back online and use alternate methods of transportation to meet the nation’s energy demand. This is America’s largest fuel pipeline – spanning 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey – and normally delivers millions of gallons of gasoline, jet fuel and other petroleum products every day to consumers in the South and along the East Coast.
For now, industry stakeholders and energy experts are working with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) in the Department of Transportation (DOT), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies to alleviate short-term supply disruptions.
Status Update: Colonial Pipeline is making progress toward a system-wide return-to-service and has indicated that they expect to restore capacity by the end of the week. In the meantime, industry and government continue working together to distribute gasoline, diesel and other refined fuels via road, rail and water. State and federal governments have lifted restrictions on trucked shipments of petroleum products, and the EPA has issued waivers on certain gasoline requirements.
Key Points: Right now, it is important to note that everyone has a role to play in this situation. Consumers can help by making fuel purchases as they normally would. Government can encourage regular fueling practices and enact policies where needed to help bring fuel to consumers. Finally, industry is using alternate methods of transportation to bring fuel to consumers as operators work to resume energy delivery systems as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, the East Coast is experiencing concurrent supply and demand shock, driven by a sudden surge in gasoline demand that would likely cause constraints even under normal circumstances. First and foremost, experts recommend against over-consuming at the pump.
Here are a few additional tips and resources for U.S. drivers:
- U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission – When storing and transporting gasoline, only use approved fuel containers. Visit API for more gasoline and service station facts.
- U.S. Department of Energy – Federal agencies, like the private sector, are responding to the incident and sharing updates, as available. Here are DOE’s standard guidelines on fuel preparedness.
- Stay up to date on fuel outages in your state. If you immediately need gasoline, you can find stations via fuel availability trackers.
How Industry and Government are Working Together
- The natural gas and oil industry has a longstanding history of closely cooperating with government partners during crisis situations such as extreme weather situations or infrastructure breaches. After the Colonial Pipeline was shut down on Friday, industry alerted government to the need for key actions that allow states to more quickly bring petroleum products to market.
- Industry will continue to work with the Biden Administration to mitigate supply disruptions caused by the cyber attack, including an hours-of-service exemption for trucks transporting gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined products to 18 states and DC. Additionally, EPA yesterday granted fuel waivers to a dozen states and the District of Columbia to minimize disruption of adequate supply of gasoline to consumers.
- More broadly, pipeline operators regularly engage with the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as the Department of Energy (DOE), to discuss cyber threats and campaigns, share threat information, participate in exercises and receive intelligence briefings.
Looking Ahead: For policymakers, this incident should underscore the vital importance of further investment in pipeline infrastructure and expanding the delivery systems that supply the energy resources that Americans need every day. We remain committed to protecting America’s critical natural gas and oil infrastructure from a growing – and economywide – cyber threat landscape.
This incident highlights that as we move forward, we need to make sure that we fully understand what has happened before we can discuss a potential solution and that any policies we develop should encourage innovation to protect against future breaches. Our members will continue to work to collaborate with the federal government and one another wherever possible to ensure they have the latest and best information to defend their networks, secure their operations and reliably deliver energy to the American people.
About The Author
Lem Smith is API’s vice president for Federal Relations. Lem joined API in February 2020 as vice president for Upstream Policy & Industry Operations. He previously served as a principal at Squire Patton Boggs, an international law and public-policy firm, where he advised private and public sector clients on federal and multi-state policy matters and provided counsel on communications strategies, campaign affairs and crises management. Previously, Lem was director, U.S. Government & Regulatory Affairs at Encana, and responsible for all aspects of U.S. government relations and regulatory policy matters at the state and federal levels. Prior to that, Lem was director of Government Relations for Kerr-McGee Corporation. Lem began his career on Capitol Hill, working for U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, U.S. Rep. Roger Wicker (Mississippi) and the late U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood (Georgia), where he negotiated key member priorities within the 2005 Energy Policy Act (EPAct). Lem is a graduate of the University of Mississippi.
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