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Colonial Pipeline reopened; Impact at gas pumps could last for days, weeks

Colonial Pipeline said Wednesday evening, when reopening its pipeline after a ransomware attack, that delivering gasoline to retail gas stations could take days.

ATLANTA — The good news about the Colonial Pipeline announcement Wednesday that it had restarted delivering gasoline, after a ransomware attack had shut down its operations, is tempered by another reality: It is likely to take several days, at least, before all the gas pumps are pumping gas again.

Colonial Pipeline, from its corporate headquarters in Alpharetta, posted the update on its website late Wednesday afternoon. It was the announcement that millions of gasoline customers, across Georgia and the rest of the South were hoping to hear.

The the company delivers 45 percent of gasoline and other fuels to much of the South and East Coast. Colonial Pipeline said it had begun the “restart of pipeline operations today at approximately 5:00 p.m. ET,” but “it will take several days... to return to normal,” and that some markets may continue to have “intermittent service interruptions” for several days.

Patrick DeHaan of GasBuddy.com told 11Alive that retail gasoline businesses across much of the South may take longer than several days to get back to normal.

“If the pipeline was down one day, it would take a day to get back up” DeHaan said. “Two days, it might take 3 or 4 days. Now down 6 days, it might take 25 days to get back to normal.”

Which would be past Memorial Day weekend, into June.

The problem, DeHaan said, has been the skyrocketing demand, mostly panic buying and hoarding, demand that quickly depleted supplies that would not have run out otherwise, even with the pipeline shut down for six days.

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Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, just before Colonial Pipeline restarted, again urged drivers not to panic-buy, a plea that stands now that the pipeline is reopened and retail inventories slowly build back up.

"We're just urging people to be patient,” Kemp said. “Get what you need. But don't get more than you need. Give your fellow citizens the opportunity to do the same. And just know that we are doing everything in our power to move the fuel here as quick as possible."

Colonial Pipeline is not saying what it had to do to recover from the ransomware attack that hijacked its servers.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that Colonial had refused to pay the ransom, instead hiring a cybersecurity firm to get back online.

Colonial was not commenting.

In Washington, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the cyberattack, combined with the winter storm in Texas that shut down that state’s electric grid, showed how vulnerable the nation’s critical infrastructure is.

“I do think it reminds us that we need to have the most resilient and flexible infrastructure for the future, especially when it comes to something like energy. We've now had, you could argue, two major wake-up-all experiences, one in Texas and now one here. Each with a different cause but both reminding us about the work that we have to do as a country."

As for the higher gas prices, DeHaan said don’t expect them to fall much.

“Prices may not go down. A lot of them may not go down. They were starting to go back up before this issue. We are starting to go back to the roadways, America is reopening. So don't expect a huge drop. In some areas, prices went up 10-15 cents. They may ease some.”

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