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'Don't panic': Biden says Colonial Pipeline has reached full operational capacity but warns resupply will 'take some time'

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden said Thursday the nation's largest fuel pipeline was at full operational capacity a week after it was halted following a cyberattack, but he warned that replenishing gas supply would "take some time."

"This is not like flicking on a light switch," Biden said, noting the 5,500-mile pipeline had never been shut down before. "Now they have to safely and fully return to normal operations, and it's going to take some time. And there may be some hiccups."

Biden said he expects to see fuel shortages improve regionally this weekend and into next week.

Wednesday, Colonial Pipeline announced it restarted pipeline operations after it was shut down last Friday. A ransomware attack locked the systems until a ransom was paid. The company paid $5 million hours after last week's attack, according to Bloomberg News. Biden and White House officials refused to comment on the ransom report.

Halting the pipeline, which serves as the primary fuel system across the East Coast and Southeast, triggered people into panic-buying gas, which caused fuel shortages and gas prices to jump above $3 for the first time in years.

Biden had one message for drivers: "Don't panic."

"I know seeing lines at the pumps or gas stations with no gas can be extremely stressful, but this is a temporary situation," he said. "Panic-buying will only slow the process."

More: Colonial Pipeline reportedly pays $5M in cryptocurrency to hackers to end ransomware cyberattack

The president warned gas stations against taking advantage of motorists and said his administration was working with governors in affected states to end price gouging at the pump.

"Nobody should be using this situation for financial gain. That's what the hackers were trying to do," he said.

The FBI announced last Friday that a hacking operation known as DarkSide was behind the attack. Biden said intelligence shows the hackers reside in Russia, but the administration does not believe the Kremlin was linked to the cyberattack.

The administration spent the past week outlining what Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called a "whole of government approach" to easing supply challenges, including issuing temporary fuel transportation waivers to alleviate gas shortages across 12 states and the District of Columbia. Buttigieg said Wednesday officials were surveying the availability of vessels qualified to carry petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico and up the Eastern Seaboard.

Biden signed an executive order Wednesday to strengthen the country's cybersecurity for federal systems and create standards for commercial software sold to government agencies and the public.

The pipeline attack, along with the SolarWinds hack on U.S. federal agencies last year and a cyber breach of Microsoft Exchange, prompted officials to shift their mindset from incident response to prevention, a senior administration official told reporters in a briefing Wednesday.

"Recent cybersecurity incidents such as SolarWinds, Microsoft Exchange, and the Colonial Pipeline incident are a sobering reminder that U.S. public and private sector entities increasingly face sophisticated malicious cyber activity from both nation-state actors and cyber criminals," a White House fact sheet said.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Colonial Pipeline at full capacity, but normal supply will take time

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