(NEXSTAR) — Long lines have started forming at gas pumps in parts of the country after the largest U.S. fuel pipeline was hit by a cyberattack and forced to halt operations. Add that to a big jump in gasoline prices this past week, and people are starting to worry.
The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit by a cyberattack Friday. Ransomware attacks are typically carried out by criminal hackers who scramble data to paralyze their target’s networks and demand large payments to decrypt it.
Colonial Pipeline closed the 5,500 hundred-mile pipe that runs through 12 states, including the Carolinas.
There have been reports of gas stations in the Southeast running out of gasoline, according to Gasbuddy.com, which tracks outages and prices. In Virginia, 7.5% of the state’s 3,880 gas stations reported running out of fuel. In North Carolina, 5.4% of 5,372 stations were out, Colonial Pipeline said.
On Tuesday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency after the cyberattack.
“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,” Governor Northam said.
Northam’s declaration comes a day after North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued his own state of emergency allowing for fuel transportation waivers.
Lines have been forming at South Carolina stations from Marion and Mullins to Myrtle Beach, reported WBTW.
In addition, dozens of Florida gas stations ran out of regular gasoline Monday, reported WKRG.
“It’s been crazy,” Danielle Charles said. “This is worse than a hurricane.” Long lines at the gas pumps are a typical occurrence during hurricane season.
Richard Joswick, head of global oil analytics at S&P Global Platts, said despite the long lines, there is no imminent fuel shortage and, thus, no need to panic-buy gasoline. In addition, Colonial Pipeline said it’s likely to restore service on the majority of its pipeline by Friday. If that happens, there won’t be much of an issue.
“If it does drag on for two weeks, it’s a problem,” Joswick added. “You’d wind up with price spikes and probably some service stations getting low on supply. And panic-buying just makes it worse.”
Other experts said if the pipeline is not up and running in the next 24 hours, we could start to see a 10-, 20-, or even 30-cent increase in gas prices.
The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline jumped 6 cents over the past two weeks to $3.02 per gallon, according to AAA.
Reuters reported Tuesday that gas prices rose to their highest in over six years, and Georgia suspended its sales tax on gas until Saturday.
Florida Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services Nikki Fried also cited the pipeline attack as the reason for the long lines as well as a lack of truck drivers to move the fuel to gas stations, something that some in the industry are predicting could cause a fuel shortage come summer.
Yet, Fried also cautions against panic-buying. “Don’t panic to buy gas,” she said. “Don’t hoard gas and don’t form long lines at gas stations. … Fuel is continuing to move around our state.”