Gas hits highest price in 6 years, fuel outages persist despite Colonial Pipeline restart

Fallout from the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack persists Monday.

May 17, 2021, 12:57 PM

Fuel outages persist in parts of the Southeast on Monday -- and the national gas price average remains at its highest level in six years -- even as the Colonial Pipeline has resumed operations following a ransomware attack.

The national gas price average on Monday was $3.04, according to data from the American Automobile Association. The AAA said a price increase leading up to Memorial Day weekend was expected, but last week's pipeline shutdown caused prices to surge in the weeks ahead of the holiday.

"The Southeast will continue to experience tight supply this week as terminals and gas stations are refueled," Jeanette McGee, an AAA spokesperson, said in a statement Monday. "Over the weekend, gas prices started to stabilize, but are expected to fluctuate in the lead up to Memorial Day weekend."

Gas prices in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina all jumped 21 cents over the past week, according to AAA data, while gas prices in Virginia and Tennessee climbed 18 cents. Nationally, average gas prices have jumped eight cents on the week.

PHOTO: A Colonial Pipeline storage site in Charlotte, N.C., May 12, 2021.
A Colonial Pipeline storage site in Charlotte, N.C., May 12, 2021.
Logan Cyrus/AFP via Getty Images

"This is going to be an expensive summer for motorists," McGee added, though she said they don't expect this to deter people from taking road trips this summer.

Meanwhile, swaths of gas stations throughout many southeastern states are still grappling with fuel outages.

Some 57% of gas stations in North Carolina have fuel outages as of Monday morning, according to data from fuel-price tracker Gasbuddy, marking the highest percentage of any state. This is followed by 49% of stations in South Carolina and 33% of stations in Virginia.

The District of Columbia, meanwhile, is dealing with a whopping 83% of stations reporting fuel outages, according to Gasbuddy.

Patrick DeHaan, the head of petroleum analysis for Gasbuddy, noted that prices surged in the Southeast due to the fallout related to the pipeline shutdown, but most areas outside that region saw much smaller fluctuations.

"With the pipeline now back in service, I expect prices to come down in the hardest hit states, specifically the Carolinas, Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Virginia," DeHaan said in a statement Monday. "The drops should lead the national average to soon fall back under the $3 per gallon mark, but motorists shouldn’t get too excited -- prices may start to head higher in a few weeks should Memorial Day gasoline demand be red hot."

Still, DeHaan said he is optimistic there will be enough of an outage recovery by Memorial Day for motorists in impacted areas to be able to fill up their tanks without having to go searching for gasoline.

Colonial Pipeline, which transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, entered a multi-day shutdown on May 7 after being hit by a cyberattack involving ransomware.

Last Thursday, a little less than a week later, operators said they had officially restarted the entire pipeline system and fuel delivery to all markets served had commenced.

The saga and days of confusion that followed exposed the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in the U.S. to new forms of cyber threats.

Critics also pointed to news that a multi-million dollar ransom had been paid in response to the cyberattack, which was first reported by Bloomberg late last week, as further highlighting the nation's lack of preparedness in dealing with criminal hacking groups.