Panic buying leaving local gas stations on empty

May 13—Before 8 a.m., Matt Walker, a West Virginia resident, was at the Kroger gas station at Beckley Crossing. He said he had visited three nearby gas stations before finding gas at Kroger.

"I come out this morning in my pajamas," Walker said, chuckling. "I work as a flagger, and I've got to travel all the time, so I'm filling up now, in hopes it will do me 'til this is over."

A criminal cyber gang hacked the computer system of Colonial, a Georgia-based company that operates the main gas transport pipeline along the East Coast. Colonial shut down operations Friday in order to contain ransomware discovered on its computer system.

The pipeline stretches from New Jersey to Texas and supplies about 45 percent of the gasoline, oil and jet fuel to the East Coast and also transports home heating fuel and fuel for the U.S. military.

Each day, Colonial typically transports 2.5 billion barrels.

Plantation Pipeline, a competitor, serves some of the same markets, including those in West Virginia.

As a result of the cyberattack on Colonial, transport of fuel along the East Coast was dramatically slowed, leading a number of West Virginians and other Americans to panic and to head to the pumps.

On Tuesday, Kroger's 20,000 gallon tank had been emptied by motorists who stopped in to get gas. A gasoline tanker had filled it with 3,500 gallons later on Tuesday, attendants reported, which is why Walker and others were able to get the gasoline early Wednesday.

North Carolina residents, facing closed stations across their state map, had called the Sheetz station on Eisenhower Drive Tuesday to make sure the tanks still had gas, store employees reported. Virginia, too, was being hit by closures. A number of them drove to West Virginia to fill their tanks along with gasoline containers.

At the GoMart on Harper Road on Wednesday, each fueling station had a vehicle at around 8:25 a.m.

Terry Landis of Ripley was among those who were fueling up. Landis was on his way to Atlanta, Ga., when he stopped in to "top off" with gasoline in Beckley.

"We heard about going through North Carolina, South Carolina," Landis explained.

Johnny Tessaro of Beckley had also stopped in to fill up his tank, but Tessaro said he was not panic buying.

"I'm not concerned with filling mine up because I think it will be back in effect Friday," he said. "Everybody's just panicked.

"I've seen a lot around Beckley, longer lines than this. Big lines.

"Everybody's panicked."

Colonial announced Wednesday that operations along the pipeline had restarted Wednesday but could take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal.

On Wednesday, gas prices were over $3 on average for the first time since 2014. At both the Little General and GoMart stations on Harper Road and Kroger at Beckley Crossing on Wednesday morning, regular fuel was still at $2.89.

As more Americans hoard fuel, however, the demand for gasoline increases, and the price at the pump gets higher.

Gov. Jim Justice told West Virginians on Wednesday not to panic. The governor urged state residents to get enough gasoline for any immediate emergency they may face but to stop hoarding gasoline.

"The best advice that I could possibly give you is to just stay calm," Justice said. "We are monitoring the situation up one side and down the other. We really are on top of it.

"We're in decent shape, West Virginia, and we will keep you abreast of the situation," Gov. Justice continued. "But it's nowhere close to being as serious as a lot of people have led you to believe."

Justice told West Virginians to stay calm. He said that most of West Virginia's fuel comes from Plantation Pipeline, which has not been hacked.

"The bulk of our gasoline that comes into the state of West Virginia does not come on the Colonial Pipeline, it comes on the Plantation Pipeline. But we're having some people hoarding gasoline anyway, and we are basically creating our own shortage right now," Gov. Justice said. "There is no real shortage of fuel right now in West Virginia, it's simply a transportation logistics problem and that, in essence, creates a shortage."

DarkSide, an alleged criminal gang, hacked into the computer networks of Colonial Pipeline on Friday, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Darkside took control of Colonial's computer system and demanded that the company pay a ransom in order for DarkSide to release control back to the company.

As a result, operations at Colonial shut down and led to the transport of fuel along the East Coast being drastically slowed.

Federal governmental agencies have taken several steps to compensate for the slow transport of fuel due to the cyberattack on Colonial. On Wednesday, at Justice's request, West Virginia was added to the Amended Regional Emergency Declaration by the Federal Motor Carry Safety Administration, which will allow easier transportation of fuel to the state.

In the U.S., Security Magazine reports, there are over 2,200 cyberattacks on US computer systems each day — one every 39 seconds.

DarkSide offered a statement on its website Monday, stating that the gang had only wanted to make money and did not mean to cause problems for society.

Colonial does not plan to pay the ransom and was working with a computer team on Wednesday to restore its data.