WHITE HOUSE – Amid regional shortages and panic-buying of gasoline, the U.S. government is seeking to reassure motorists that fuel will be fully flowing again within days through a critical pipeline shut down after a Russian cyberattack.
The secretaries of energy and homeland security were at the White House podium Tuesday afternoon attempting to calm concerns and issue a warning amid predictions gas prices are heading to heights not seen in years.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm acknowledged that several state governors are concerned about “gas stations running out of fuel.”
The states of North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia and Virginia are seeing the largest impact from the shutdown of the pipeline that runs nearly 9,000 kilometers, she told reporters.
Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, on Tuesday declared a state of emergency.
“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,” the governor said in a statement.
North Carolina has issued a similar declaration.
“The next couple of days will be challenging,” acknowledged Granholm, who also had a warning for industry.
“We will have no tolerance for price gouging,” stated the energy secretary. “There should be no cause for hoarding gasoline.”
By the end of the business day on Wednesday, Colonial Pipeline, headquartered in Georgia, is expected to be able to make a restart decision, however, “it will take a few days to be up and running,” said Granholm.
The company acted responsibly, according to Granholm, by halting the pipeline’s operation “so the ransomware wouldn’t spread.”
The U.S. government and states are taking a number of temporary actions and considering others to alleviate the supply crunch of gasoline and jet fuel.
Some fuel taxes are being suspended. Emergency fuel-air-emissions waivers have been issued.
Allowing foreign ships to transport fuel is being evaluated, which would require an exemption to the Jones Act, which requires all goods shuttled between domestic ports to be carried on American ships.
Some airlines are flying in fuel for their own use.
Railroads may also be requested to carry gasoline.
“There are no easy solutions,” responded Granholm when asked by VOA about the use of the rails to do that. “Pipe is the best way to go.”
The attack on the pipeline company’s computers was designed to cripple its operations until an undisclosed amount of ransom is paid.
Criminal hackers usually request ransom in Bitcoin cryptocurrency, which makes it impossible to trace the recipient.
Neither government officials nor the company have commented on whether Colonial Pipeline has paid any ransom.
“There’s no company too small to suffer a ransomware attack,” Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, told White House reporters. “We are seeing increasingly small- and medium-sized businesses suffer a ransomware attack.”
A Russia-based cyber-criminal group, known as Darkside, has claimed responsibility for the Colonial Pipeline attack and has said in a statement it is after only money and was not intending to cause political, economic or social disruption.
Moscow is not to blame, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
“Russia has nothing to do with these hacker attacks, nor with the previous hacker attacks,” Peskov told reporters. “We categorically reject any accusation against us.”
Peskov’s counterpart at the White House was asked on Tuesday about suspected Russian government involvement.
Given that the Federal Bureau of Investigation attributes the ransomware attack to Russian soil, “that country has a responsibility to act responsibly,” said White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. “We’ll wait for our intelligence community to make a full assessment before we have more to convey about it.”