(Reuters) – Widespread gasoline shortages along the U.S. East Coast began to ease slightly on Saturday as the nation’s biggest fuel pipeline ramped up operations following last week’s cyberattack, and ships and trucks were deployed to fill up dry storage tanks.
The six-day Colonial Pipeline shutdown was the most disruptive cyberattack on record, triggering widespread panic buying by U.S. motorists that left filling stations across the U.S. Southeast out of gas.
On Saturday morning, some 81% of gas stations in Washington, D.C. were without fuel, an improvement from 88% without fuel late Friday, according to fuel tracking app GasBuddy. Shortages also eased slightly in Florida and Maryland, while remaining about the same in North Carolina.
U.S. gasoline demand, meanwhile, dropped 12.6% from the previous week, a decline that was likely due to an easing of “crazed” panic buying just after the pipeline shut, said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at GasBuddy.
The nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded was $3.04 on Saturday, from $2.96 a week ago, according to AAA.
The Colonial Pipeline began its restart on Wednesday, and said it was approaching normal rates.
Ships deployed under emergency waivers were also moving fuel from U.S. Gulf Coast refiners to the northeast, while 18-wheel tanker trunks were ferrying gasoline from Alabama to Virginia, helping to stem the shortages.
In Washington, D.C., Dennis Li was stuck on Friday at a Sunoco gas station that was out of fuel. He had tried to find gas at four stations during the day, with no luck.
“I’m running on empty to the point where I don’t want to drive anymore,” said Li, who is from Annapolis, Maryland.
Nicholas Swann had driven from his home in Washington to Bethesda to get gasoline, where the wait was 15 minutes.
“We were originally going to drive out to the beach this weekend but we don’t know if we will, because I can’t make it there and back on one tank of gas,” Swann said.
INITIAL BREACH UNKNOWN
The hacking group blamed for the attack, DarkSide, said it had hacked four other companies including a Toshiba (OTC:TOSYY) subsidiary in Germany.
Colonial Pipeline has not determined how the initial breach occurred, a spokeswoman said this week. The 5,500-mile (8,900-km) pipeline carries 100 million gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel per day from Texas refineries to East Coast markets.
Colonial has not disclosed how much money the hackers were seeking or whether it paid. Bloomberg News and the New York Times reported that it paid nearly $5 million to hackers.
Steve Boyd, a senior managing director at fuel delivery firm Sun Coast Resources, estimated that with gasoline moving on the pipeline at half Colonial’s normal speed, it could take 12 to 20 days for new deliveries to reach the northern-most point in Linden, New Jersey.
Sun Coast has 75 trucks taking supplies from terminals in Alabama and Georgia to retailers as far away as Virginia.
“If customers need us for another week or three weeks, we’ll be there,” said Boyd.
(By Stephanie Kelly in New York, Jennifer Hiller in Houston, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Timothy Gardner in Bethesda, Maryland; additional reporting by Laura Sanicola, Joe Menn and Liz Hampton; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Marguerita Choy)
By Stephanie Kelly and Jennifer Hiller