RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Virginia because of gasoline supply disruptions caused by a cyberattack on a key East Coast fuel pipeline.
The emergency declaration came as long lines formed at gasoline pumps across the Waynesboro area, Virginia and other states Tuesday, along with spotty outages of gas, as some people rushed to fill up their tanks following the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline.
A Costco employee outside a store in Richmond told those waiting in like that “everyone is panicking because of the pipeline issue.”
There also were spotty outages of gasoline at other stores. Grocery chain Kroger shut down gas pumps at several locations Tuesday afternoon because of shortages.
The same scramble for gas was being seen in other states after the Colonial Pipeline, which moves about 45% of the East Coast’s fuel, was shut down on Friday after its computer servers were hit by a ransomware attack, a type of attack in which hackers seize control of an organization’s computer system and demand a ransom payment to unlock it.
The FBI confirmed that a criminal gang of hackers called DarkSide, believed or be operating in eastern Europe, was responsible for the cyber attack.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a temporary fuel transportation waiver to increase the supply of gasoline, and Northam’s emergency declaration allows state agencies to issue their own waivers as required by the state. The declaration also provides increased flexibility and funding for state and local governments to ensure adequate fuel supply.
“This emergency declaration will help the commonwealth prepare for any potential supply shortages and ensure Virginia motorists have access to fuel as we respond to this evolving situation,” Northam said in a statement.
However, many gasoline retailers were saying Tuesday that they still have supplies, and some gas market observers were urging people to remain calm and avoid panic buying.
“There is no question that the Colonial Pipeline outage is becoming a significant event for the entire East Coast as it supplies over 50% of fuel supply to end consumers in many markets that it serves,” said Lori Bruce, a spokeswoman for Wawa Inc., a major chain of convenience stores.
“However, I can share that Wawa has had no interruption of supply at its stores in our six states and plans on maintaining supply through this event,” Bruce said.
Henrico County-based GPM Investments LLC, the parent company of the Fas Mart convenience store chain and hundreds of others across the country, said Tuesday that it has had “spot outages” of gasoline.
“As of this morning, we have spot outages in certain areas but nothing widespread at this time,” said Arie Kotler, chairman, president and CEO of Arko Corp. the parent company of GPM. “We are mostly branded fuel and have many brands and supply relationships, so we are able to pull resources from other markets.”
Sheetz, another major convenience store chain, said Tuesday that it is not experiencing any widespread gasoline outages.
“As the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline continues, our teams at Sheetz are working to address any supply issues at our store locations,” the chain said. “As of now, there are no widespread outages at our stores, although certain grades of gasoline could be temporarily unavailable while our fueling teams replenish supplies. We apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers and thank them for their patience while we navigate this situation.”
AAA said it forecasts gas prices to climb this week in reaction to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New York City.
“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally,” said Jeanette McGee, a AAA spokesperson. “Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases. These states may see prices increase three to seven cents this week.”