Colonial Pipeline Co., whose fuel pipeline passes through Bremen to supply airports and gas stations across the East Coast, was sidelined this weekend by a cyberattack.
But another fuel supplier, also with operations in Bremen, is stepping up in what has become a national emergency that threatens to spike fuel prices.
Colonial is the nation’s largest fuel pipeline system, running 5,500 miles between Houston, Texas, and Linden, New Jersey. Along the way, it passes through Bremen with an operation on Bush Mill Road, just outside the city limits. According to Reuters, the company supplies about 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.
On Friday, the company shut down its entire operation after hackers broke into part of its computer network in what the federal government has called a cyberattack. In reaction, the government issued a rare emergency declaration on Sunday, ramping up alternative transportation routes for oil and gas and easing regulations on transport drivers.
On Monday, Products Pipe Line Corp., formerly known as Plantation Pipeline in Bremen, told the Times-Georgian that it was working with its customers who are trying to bank additional barrels of fuel while the Colonial system is shut down.
“Furthermore, we are deferring any non-essential maintenance that might otherwise reduce flow rates to the extent possible while we ensure the safe and reliable operation of the PPL system,” a company spokesperson said by email. “We will continue to work under industry best practices and in coordination with our customers and regulators as the situation evolves.”
NBC News reported Monday that the FBI has confirmed that the cyberattack used a type of ransomware called DarkSide, operated by a Russian cybercrime gang referred to by the same name. Such hackers break into a company’s computer network, encrypt its computer files, and threaten to make them public unless the company pays a ransom, usually with cyber currency.
Ransomware attacks have occurred across the nation with increasing frequency causing great expense to those affected. According to Wired magazine, the City of Atlanta, for example, spent $2.6 million to harden its network after ransomware hackers demanded $50,000 in bitcoin.
Southwire, a global company headquartered in Carrollton, had its operations disrupted for weeks in 2020 when cyber attackers demanded a $6 million ransom in e-currency. It has never been disclosed what steps the company took to recover from the attack, but the company did take legal action in U.S. and Northern Ireland courts.
By shutting down Colonial Pipeline, the hackers have created a situation that, if prolonged, could impact prices that motorists and motor carriers pay at the pump, not to mention the cost of goods shipped by plane or boat.
On Monday, AAA issued a statement that said Georgia’s gas prices were up six cents compared to a week ago, with Peach State motorists paying an average price of $2.76 for regular unleaded.
The organization’s statement forecasts those costs to continue climbing in reaction to the Colonial shutdown. The impact may be more keenly felt in the Southeast.
Meanwhile, according to Reuters, alternative providers like Products Pipeline Corp., can help with demand. The company has a 3,180-mile pipeline that originates in Louisiana, passes through Bremen, and ends around Washington, D.C. But the company, operated by Kinder Morgan, delivers approximately 780,000 barrels of fuel compared to Colonial’s flow of 2.5 million barrels each day.
Colonial did not respond directly to a query from the Times-Georgian on how its Bremen operations have been affected by the cyberattack, but instead referred to a press statement on its website. The company said “segments” of its pipeline are being brought back online but cautioned that returning to normal operations would be a process that takes time. Meanwhile, the company said it continues to evaluate its inventory of fuel products now in storage tanks along its distribution system and is working with shippers to move the product to terminals for local delivery.
Sunday’s emergency declaration by the Department of Transportation would, according to NBC, lift regulations on fuel transport drivers, allowing them to drive with more overtime hours and with less sleep than current DOT regulations permit. This action, the company’s statement said, “should help alleviate local supply disruptions, and we thank our government partners for their assistance in resolving this matter.”