Gas prices hit $3 a gallon for 1st time in nearly 7 years amid Colonial Pipeline saga

Federal authorities have urged for calmness and against panic-buying.

As the nation grapples with an unprecedented cybersecurity attack on a major East Coast fuel pipeline, the national gas price average hit $3 a gallon for the first time in seven years.

The national average price of regular gasoline is just slightly over $3 a gallon on Wednesday, according to data from the American Automobile Association. The last time average prices were at these levels was in November 2014.

Colonial Pipeline, which transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast, said Saturday it was the victim of a cyberattack involving ransomware, and had temporarily halted all pipeline operations as a result. Pipeline operators have said they hope to "substantially" restore operations by the end of the week.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday said that Homeland Security Adviser Liz Sherwood-Randall and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese met with principal leaders of the interagency group tackling the Colonial Pipeline situation.

Psaki did not give any update on where things stand with the pipeline reopening but conceded that there are “supply shortages.”

"The group discussed the latest updates on fuel supply in the affected region, and steps that agencies have taken and are considering to further alleviate the supply shortages," Psaki said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in remarks during an unrelated hearing before a Senate committee that DHS has the capabilities and resources to address all threats facing the homeland when asked about the ransomware attack.

"We are working at the direction of the president in an all-of-government way to address the cybersecurity threat that Colonial Pipeline suffered, and that other businesses and institutions across our country are vulnerable to,” Mayorkas said.

Four states in the Southeast -- Virginia, Florida, North Carolina and Georgia -- have declared a state of emergency related to the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack.

Some analysts have attributed the price hikes and fuel shortages at some gas stations in the region in part to panic-buying. Fuel-price tracker GasBuddy reported Tuesday that demand had jumped 14.3% week-over-week.

As of Wednesday afternoon, some 65% of gas stations in North Carolina have fuel outages, according to GasBuddy data, marking the highest of any state. This is followed by approximately 44% of gas stations in Virginia and 43% of gas stations in both South Carolina and Georgia.

Energy Sec. Jennifer Granholm on Tuesday urged calm, saying there should be no cause for "hoarding gasoline."

"Much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic," Granholm told reporters, "there should be no cause for hoarding gasoline, especially in light of the fact that the pipeline should be substantially operational by the end of this week and over the weekend."