Pipeline breakdown leads to urgent issues for Biden administration

2021-05-12 22:08:19 GMT2021-05-13 06:08:19(Beijing Time) Xinhua English
A gasoline station running out of gasoline is seen in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, May 11, 2021. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)  A gasoline station running out of gasoline is seen in Arlington, Virginia, the United States, May 11, 2021. (Xinhua/Liu Jie)

WASHINGTON, May 12 (Xinhua) -- The temporary shutdown of the U.S. largest conduit for gasoline and diesel over the weekend has conspicuously triggered off a dire situation of triple predicament for the Joe Biden administration to cope with, which might escalate and deteriorate on the three fronts of fuel supply, energy development and cyber security if not addressed on urgent basis.


Fuel shortages have worsened across the U.S. East Coast as consumers continue panic buying amid the fallout from the cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline last week. The national average for gas prices reached 3 U.S. dollars per gallon on Wednesday, the most expensive level since October 2014, according to FOX Business.

The 5,500-mile pipeline system transports more than 100 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and heating oil per day, or roughly 45 percent of fuel consumed on the Eastern Seaboard between the Gulf Coast and the New York metro area.

A growing number of gas stations along the East Coast are without fuel as nervous drivers aggressively fill up their tanks following the ransomware attack that shut down the critical artery for gasoline. "The panic-buying threatens to exacerbate the supply shock," CNN reported.

As of Tuesday morning, 12.3 percent of gas stations in North Carolina and 8.6 percent in Virginia didn't have gasoline, according to outage figures reported by GasBuddy, an app that tracks fuel prices and demand.

"We've already seen higher gas prices," Tiffany Wright, a spokeswoman for the American Automobile Association (AAA) in the Carolinas, was quoted by the National Public Radio (NPR) as saying. "They have gone up as high from anywhere from three to 10 cents overnight."

Later Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm urged Americans not to hoard gasoline as Colonial Pipeline Co. was expected to fully resume operations in a few days.

"The White House and the Department of Energy have been leading an interagency response to the Colonial Pipeline hack," Granholm said at a White House press briefing, noting that the current supply crunch was in the areas that were affected by the pipeline, predominantly the Southeast, such as the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and southern Virginia.


The ransomware attack on Colonial Pipeline has also hit the U.S. energy industry that largely lacks federal oversight, leading to uneven digital defenses against such hacks.

The temporary shutdown of Colonial's pipeline, the country's largest conduit for gasoline and diesel to the East Coast, highlights the need for additional protection and oversight to help shield the oil-and-gas companies that power much of the country's economic activity, cyber experts told the media.

"The pipeline sector is a bit of the Wild West," said John Cusimano, vice president of cybersecurity at aeSolutions, a consulting firm that works with energy companies and other industrial firms on cybersecurity.

Cusimano called for rules similar to the U.S. Coast Guard's 2020 regulations for the maritime sector that required companies operating ports and terminals to put together cybersecurity assessments and plans for incidents.

More than two-thirds of executives at companies that transport or store oil and gas said their organizations are ready to respond to a breach, according to a 2020 survey by the law firm Jones Walker LLP. But many don't take basic precautions such as encrypting data or conducting dry runs of attacks, said Andy Lee, who chairs the firm's privacy and security team.

Electric utilities are governed by rules enforced by the North American Electric Reliability Corp., a nonprofit that reviews companies' security measures and has the power to impose million-dollar fines if they don't meet standards.

There is no such regulatory body enforcing standards for oil-and-gas companies, said Tobias Whitney, vice president of energy security solutions at Fortress Information Security, a company that helps energy firms vet business partners for cyber readiness.


The essential U.S. gasoline pipeline being knocked offline by cyberattack has shown how dangerous, professional-scale hack-for-ransom threat is spreading rapidly and crippling institutions in the United States, reported The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday.

"Attacks are growing in number and scale as millions of people across the country work or attend school remotely, in some cases opening back doors to networks without corporate or institutional security protections," security researchers were quoted as saying.

The newspaper reported that senior officials in the Biden administration consider ransomware as the most serious cybersecurity threat to the United States, and are pessimistic about the situation in the years ahead.

Ransomware encrypts the contents of the victim's computers and makes them unusable until a payment is made and a decryption key is given to the victims. The Journal said victims often pay ransom because they have no backup copies or because the effort required to restore hundreds of computers is prohibitive.

Faced with such a daunting situation, President Joe Biden has vowed his administration is prepared to take additional steps to respond to the cybersecurity attack on the Colonial Pipeline.

"The Federal Bureau of Investigation has determined Colonial's network was infected by ransomware, and it's a criminal act, obviously," Biden said, adding the agencies across the government have acted quickly to mitigate any impact on the fuel supply.

"My administration will be pursuing a global effort of ransomware attacks by transnational criminals who often use global money-laundering networks to carry them out," added the president.