Canada

‘Do not fill plastic bags with gasoline’ U.S. warns as shortages grow over ransomware attack

Bags cover gas pump handles at a Quick Trip gas station in Charlotte, North Carolina, on May 12, 2021.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on Wednesday warned Americans to not fill plastic bags with gasoline as fuel shortages worsened on the sixth day of a pipeline outage and consumers raced to secure supplies.

A ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline last week halted 2.5 million barrels per day of fuel shipments. On Wednesday, fuel shortages worsened in the southeastern United States, as gasoline stations ran out of supply in some cities.

The supply crunch and panic buying have brought long lines and high prices at the pump ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend at the end of this month, which traditionally marks the start of the peak summer driving season.

Getting consumers to think more carefully was an important theme for the agency, which also tweeted an acknowledgement that “when people get desperate they stop thinking clearly.” The agency asked consumers to tell people using a container not meant for fuel: “please let them know it’s dangerous.”

The agency stressed that it does not mean to talk down to consumers.

“Sometimes when we put out a safety message like this people use it as a way to look down on others. We ask that instead you use this as an opportunity to reflect on safety in your own life,” it said in another tweet.

Privately owned Colonial Pipeline manually opened portions of the line to release needed supplies in Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and the Carolinas. It has accepted 2 million barrels of fuel to begin a restart that would “substantially” restore operations by week’s end, the company said.

The supply crunch sparked panic buying by motorists, bringing long lines and high prices at gas stations ahead of the Memorial Day holiday weekend at the end of this month, the traditional start of the peak summer driving season.

The average national gasoline price rose to above $3.00 a gallon on Wednesday, the highest since October 2014, the American Automobile Association said.

Nearly 60% of gas stations in metro Atlanta were without gasoline on Wednesday, tracking firm GasBuddy said. More than 70% of stations were out in metro Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, and Pensacola, Florida. Virginia and South Carolina also saw relatively high outages.

Four southeastern states – Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia – joined federal regulators in relaxing driver and fuel restrictions to speed deliveries of supplies. Georgia suspended sales tax on gasoline until Saturday.

The FBI has accused a shadowy criminal gang called DarkSide of the ransomware attack. DarkSide is believed to be based in Russia or Eastern Europe.

Russia’s embassy in the United States rejected speculation that Moscow was behind the attack. President Joe Biden on Monday said there was no evidence so far that Russia was responsible.

It is unknown how much money the hackers are seeking, and Colonial has not commented on whether it would pay.

Gulf Coast refiners that move fuel to market on the Colonial Pipeline have cut processing. Total SE trimmed gasoline production at its Port Arthur, Texas, refinery, and Citgo Petroleum pared back at its Lake Charles, Louisiana, plant.

Citgo said it was moving products from Lake Charles and “exploring alternate supply methods into other impacted markets.” Marathon Petroleum, another large refiner, said it was “making adjustments” to operations.

Colonial also serves major U.S. airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, the world’s busiest by passenger traffic.

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