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What’s going on with gas right now? Here’s how Florida is affected

A major gasoline pipeline was taken offline by a cyberattack. What does that mean for fuel in Florida?
A woman fills her minivan on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Costco Wholesale gas station in Clearwater where business was brisk and congested as fuel shortages crop up in Southeast and gas prices climb after a pipeline hack disrupted distribution networks.
A woman fills her minivan on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at the Costco Wholesale gas station in Clearwater where business was brisk and congested as fuel shortages crop up in Southeast and gas prices climb after a pipeline hack disrupted distribution networks. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 12
Updated May 13

Have you seen reports of long lines at gas stations? People being turned away because pumps have no fuel? Those are residual effects from a major pipeline hack that happened late last week.

Here’s how Florida and Tampa Bay are affected right now.

Related: DeSantis declares state of emergency for gas shortage due to pipeline shutdown

What’s going on with gas right now?

The Colonial Pipeline, the country’s largest gasoline pipeline that runs from Texas to New York, was knocked offline Friday by a cyberattack. This disrupted the delivery of gas to the East Coast and caused the pipeline’s private operators to deliver nearly 41 million gallons of gas by truck. As of Thursday morning, the most recent update available, the pipeline was back online and delivering fuel again.

The truck deliveries, which are slower than pumping fuel through the pipeline, initially led to temporary gas shortages along the East Coast.

How does this affect Florida?

The pipeline itself does not serve much of Florida, so supply shortages were limited to northern parts of the state, such as Tallahassee. Most of Florida’s gas is delivered via cargo ship from Gulf Coast refineries, which were not interrupted by the pipeline hack. Gas prices have held steady in Florida over the past few days, according to Mark Jenkins, spokesperson for AAA, the Auto Club Group.

A gallon of gas averaged $2.90 per gallon in Florida Thursday, according to AAA, up 1 cent from the day before and 2 cents from last week. Tampa Bay gas prices averaged $2.86 per gallon, up 1 cent from yesterday and down 1 cents from last Thursday.

So is there a gas shortage?

Only temporarily. There is no shortage of supply. Gas supplying the East Coast comes largely from refineries along the Gulf of Mexico from states such as Texas and Louisiana, which according to Jenkins were unaffected and still producing fuel. The issue was getting that gas to customers, which normally happens largely through the Colonial Pipeline. While the pipeline was down, gas was delivered slower by vehicles.

What caused further temporary shortages, Jenkins said, were people panic-buying gas after seeing media reports that supply was affected.

“Fuel up responsibly. Take what you need, but don’t treat this as a panic situation because that just ultimately creates more problems than anything,” he said.

Panic buying, the Associated Press said, caused 3 percent of gas stations to run out of gas as of Wednesday. Many had long lines, including in Tampa Bay.

Customers line up at the Sam’s Club in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 over a possible gas shortage due to the closure of Colonial Pipeline by a cyberattack.
Customers line up at the Sam’s Club in St. Petersburg on Wednesday, May 12, 2021 over a possible gas shortage due to the closure of Colonial Pipeline by a cyberattack. [ MENGSHIN LIN | Times ]

How are Florida’s leaders responding?

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Tuesday in response to the supply chain issues, according to the Associated Press. DeSantis activated the Florida National Guard in an executive order on the issue and told emergency management leaders to coordinate with local and federal officials. The order was still in effect as of Thursday.

Nikki Fried, commissioner of the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, encouraged Floridians to act as they normally would and avoid buying gas out of fear. Those with questions, she said, can call 800-HELP-FLA.

Nationally, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urged drivers to use appropriate containers for gas in general.

What does a cyberattack mean?

In this case, the Colonial Pipeline was hit by ransomware, a type of malicious software that can encrypt a computer system and require payment to unlock it. The pipeline’s operations, like other pipelines and critical infrastructure, are controlled by computers. Ransomware has become increasingly common in recent years as big-ticket targets such as hospitals or schools are hit by the malware. Victims can be infected with ransomware randomly, as criminals play a numbers game hoping that at least one of their targets will pay up. Others can be specifically intended for a company attackers want to take offline.

Critical infrastructure is a particularly enticing target for attackers acting on behalf of a country because of the physical damage and disruption it can cause to a rival nation. The pipeline hack, while significant in its effects, isn’t the first time infrastructure was attacked this year. In February, an attacker increased the amount of lye in Oldsmar’s water supply. The motivations and perpetrators of that incident are unknown.

Do we know who did it?

Typically, figuring out who perpetrated a cyberattack is difficult. In this case, the Federal Bureau of Investigation identified a criminal group called “DarkSide” as the likely perpetrators, according to the New York Times, which may have ties to Russia. A statement on DarkSide’s website the Times cited said the group did not intend to cause “social consequences” from the attack.