President Biden says East Coast gas shortages brought on by the cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline should begin to alleviate as soon as this weekend as the pipeline reaches full capacity, but he warned it will take several days before gas supplies are completely replenished.
“It’s not like flicking on a light switch,” Biden said, and “there may be some hiccups along the way,” noting the pipeline has never been completely shut down before.
Biden, in a short address at the White House, also urged consumers not to 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. “Do not get more gas than you need in the next few days.”
Biden said he expects the supply situation to begin to improve by the weekend and into early next week. “Gasoline supply is coming back online, and panic-buying will only slow the process,” he said, urging Americans to “stay strong.”
“Help is on the way, we’re going to get through this, as we always do as Americans, and we’re going to do it together.”
Biden also warned gas stations against price gouging. “Do not — I repeat — do not try to take advantage of consumers during this time.”
Biden said the FBI does not believe that Russia’s government was behind the cyberattack, “but we do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are living in Russia.”
Asked about reports the pipeline company paid a ransom to the hackers, Biden responded, “I have no comment on that.”
Biden spoke after issuing an executive order Wednesday night, setting out a new series of requirements for companies that do business with the U.S., and after Colonial announced it was starting to reopen its pipeline, which provides nearly half of the East Coast’s fuel.
The Colonial Pipeline shutdown led to hoarding among some Americans, who waited in long lines to fill their tanks amid unfounded fears that gasoline supplies were running out.
And it’s a fraught political issue for the president, prompting attacks from Republicans, who have used the specter of gas shortages to criticize Biden’s energy policies, including his decision to stop work on the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would not have affected the East Coast gas issues. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., tweeted, “America is facing a gas shortage. We need to get the Colonial pipeline back to work, and the Keystone pipeline back to construction.”
Some Democrats are cautioning more is needed to combat cyberattacks on the nation’s infrastructure. The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said, “The United States is simply not prepared to fend off state-sponsored or even criminal hackers intent on compromising our systems for profit or espionage. This executive order is a good first step, but executive orders can only go so far. Congress is going to have to step up and do more to address our cyber vulnerabilities, and I look forward to working with the administration and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to close those gaps.”
In a statement released Wednesday night, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said his department will “take immediate steps” to implement the executive order, “to help federal government agencies improve their security posture by modernizing programs and systems, developing a standard playbook for incident response, and establishing a Cyber Safety Review Board comprised of public and private sector stakeholders.”
Biden also announced he has approved a temporary waiver of the Jones Act to allow an unnamed individual company to transport oil products between the Gulf and East coasts to ease oil supply constraints. The Jones Act stipulates that only U.S. flagged vessels may operate between U.S. ports.
The executive order had been in the works for some time, prompted by the hack of SolarWinds, a Texas software company. The hackers, believed to be based in Russia, were able to access dozens of private companies and federal agencies.