Joe Biden

DHS Grants Jones Act Waiver, Easing Fuel Supply Strain After Pipeline Hack

A man fills gas canisters with fuel at a Sunoco gas station in Sumter, South Carolina, on Tuesday, May 11, 2021.
Micah Green | Bloomberg | Getty Images

What to Know

  • A cybersecurity attack on the Colonial Pipeline has left the nation's largest fuel pipeline offline for nearly a week.
  • Although the pipeline shutdown did not cause a gasoline shortage, Americans in parts of the Southeastern U.S. have been fuel-hoarding and panic-buying.
  • As a result, the Biden administration announced early Thursday its decision to waive the Jones Act, a federal law overseeing maritime commerce, to permit an individual company to transport additional gas and jet fuel between Gulf Coast and East Coast ports.

The Department of Homeland Security issued a temporary waiver early Thursday morning to allow more fuel to flow within the United States after a cybersecurity attack on the Colonial Pipeline prompted fuel-hoarding and panic-buying in parts of the Southeastern U.S.

While Colonial initiated the restart of pipeline operations late Wednesday, the company, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, said it will take several days for deliveries to return to normal.

The Biden administration's decision to waive the Jones Act, a federal law overseeing maritime commerce, will permit an individual company, not identified by the DHS, to transport additional gas and jet fuel between Gulf Coast and East Coast ports.

The nation's largest fuel pipeline has been offline for nearly a week. As a result, Americans rushed to gas pumps on Wednesday amid fears of possible shortages.

North Carolina tow-truck driver Jonathan King was one of those Americans, worried about whether he could do his job.

“I drive all over the place,” King said at a packed gas station outside Winston-Salem on Wednesday. “It gets really busy. And yeah, with the fuel going the way it’s going, it’s going to be very hard for us. Hopefully we’ll be able to get through it.”

Amid the chaos, the governors of Florida, North Carolina and Virginia declared states of emergency to help ensure supply and access to gas.

As people in the region emerge from the lockdowns and limitations of the coronavirus pandemic, some feared the prospect of lost wages and missed doctors appointments. They also worried about canceling plans with family members who they were only beginning to see again.

Restaurants and bars, which are already struggling to fill job openings, will find themselves particularly squeezed, said Robert McNab, an economics professor at Virginia’s Old Dominion University. Some workers may not be able to come to work. And some customers may abandon plans to eat out.

“In all likelihood, these service workers will be impacted most significantly, with rising fuel and food prices eating a larger part of their household budgets and income being reduced this month by the fear-induced shortage of gasoline,” McNab said.

While there is no gasoline shortage, according to government officials and energy analysts, there has been a problem getting the fuel from refineries on the Gulf Coast to the states that need it. Officials have been scrambling to find alternate routes to deliver that fuel.

The distribution problems and panic-buying have been draining supplies at thousands of gas stations. The technology firm found that 28% of stations were out of fuel in North Carolina. In Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia, more than 16% of stations were without gas.

In Walton County, Georgia, paramedic Jeff Lisle had just under a quarter-tank of gas in his Jeep — but no one knew of any stations near his house that had gas. So, he went to his garage and found a small amount in the cans he uses for his lawnmower in case he needed the extra boost to make it to work.

As for the ambulances he works in, “we have to buy fuel at gas stations like everybody else does,” he said. That means that whenever possible, the ambulances have been stopping to refuel when they’re lucky enough to drive past a station with gas.

Earlier this week, the Colonial Pipeline hack was linked to DarkSide, a ransomware gang that has "professionalized" a criminal industry and cost Western nations tens of billions of dollars in losses in the past three years.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at strengthening U.S. cybersecurity defenses.

The White House said Biden would deliver more remarks on the pipeline incident Thursday morning.

Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Martin reported from Marietta, Georgia.

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