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May’s gas shortages were ‘nothing more than an inconvenience,’ says UH energy economist

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

Gerald Sastra/The Cougar

The U.S. experienced a temporary gasoline shortage following a ransom ware attack on the nation’s largest gas pipeline on May 7, forcing a temporary shutdown of the colonial pipeline.

The pipeline, which stretches from Texas to New Jersey, typically delivers 45 percent of gasoline used on the east coast.

“The Cybersecurity attack on the pipeline on the east coast affected the gas supply which consequently affected the price,” said computer information systems sophomore Zachary Garcia. “I was pretty surprised to hear about the shortage, especially after what happened during the winter storm. I was nervous at first, but also knew that the issues were mostly isolated to the east coast.”

Gas Buddy, a popular tracking service, was able to monitor the impact and found that on the Friday following the attack, Washington was most affected at 88 percent of gas stations being out of fuel, followed by 65 percent of stations in North Carolina and approximately 50 percent in South Carolina and Georgia.

The FBI recently confirmed that a ransomware group called DarkSide was responsible for the pipeline shutdown after they hacked into critical computer systems and demanded a ransom. 

The colonial pipeline’s CEO, Joseph Blount, told The Wall Street Journal that he authorized the company to pay $4.4 million as ransom because they didn’t know the extent of the cyberattack and how long it would take to restore the pipeline

Although Blount admitted that it was a controversial settlement, he believed it was the right decision to make for the country 

The pipeline’s operations were reinstated on late Wednesday, however it will continue to take a few days for everything to return to normal due to limited supplies and the surge of panic buying.  

In fact, since the beginning of the attack, gas prices have temporarily raised anywhere from 3 to 10 cents overnight, according to NPR.

“The impact of the price increase is amplified because people have been mass stocking,” Garcia added.

Although the gas shortage was the cause of nationwide panic, the long-term impacts of the shortage, especially in Houston, will be minimal, according to UH energy economist Ed Hirs.

“The impact was temporary and was more related to consumer behavior than economic factors,” Hirs said. “There was some panic buying along Florida, Virginia and the Carolinas, but it was truly nothing more than an inconvenience of a few days.” 

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