In the Eastern United States, there are lineups at the gas pumps not seen since the 1970s. There is a “gas shortage.” Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina have declared states of emergency.
The panic was triggered a cybersecurity attack. On May 7, the Colonial Pipeline, which supplies half the gas and diesel to the east coast from New Jersey to Texas, was hit, according to the FBO, by a cybercriminal ring called “Darkside” who launched a ransomware attack on Colonial. They hacked into Colonial’s cybersecurity and stole 100 gigabytes of data, and then held the data hostage. Colonial immediately stopped all pipeline operations. By May 10, Darkside had posted an apology for the disruption, claiming they had only wanted money.
Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas explained the situation. “In cybersecurity, one is only as strong as one’s weakest link. And therefore we are indeed focused on identifying those weak links.”
While true, this is a tad redundant. Everything is only as strong as its weakest link, that’s why they’re called “weakest links.”
It’s hard to determine precisely when the panic gained momentum, though if pressed to choose a moment, it was probably right about the time authorities told people not to panic.
“Let me emphasize that much as there was no cause for say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, “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.”
And so the hoarding increased.
Colonial Pipeline debacle could have remained a supply chain issue. Colonial had 26 to 27 days-worth of gas available at the time they ceased pipeline operations. Had people not panicked, it would have simply been an inconvenience. Still, the terror that gripped motorists at the prospect of future shortages led some to stockpile gasoline. By Monday, demand for gas had risen by a combined 40 per cent in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. In Raleigh, North Carolina, 72 per cent of stations were out of fuel by mid-week.
Social media is now filled with images of people filling 5-gallon canteens, garbage bags, coolers, giant basins, clear plastic bags, hot tubs, barrels and anything else that will hold liquid. Gas stations have run dry. Prices are way up. It’s humanity, not at its worst, but at its most gleefully ignorant. You can even find a video on Instagram of a man and a woman getting into a tussle at the self-serve. If you’re ever wondering, “Why has God forsaken us?” Check it out and you’ll have your answer.
Is there a gas shortage? No, there is lots of gas. As Tom Kloza, the head of energy analysis at the Oil Price Information Service, told PBS, “There is plenty of gasoline and there’s plenty of oil in North America and in the United States. And we have got extra refining capacity, and we’re going to be able to import fuel. But this is kind of the coalescing of social media and the fear of missing out on gasoline. They say we’re going to run out. And you’re seeing that behaviour. And the crowd is not making necessarily a wise decision.”
“Not making necessarily a wise decision” is smart person speak for “egregiously dumb.”
In other words, the “Great Gasoline Shortage of 2021” was caused by people hoarding gas because they were afraid people were going to start hoarding gas. It was not caused, as was the case in the 1970s, by embargoes, political fallout from the Iranian Revolution and decreased production.
How will it all end? Probably with lots of people owning useless containers of gasoline. Given the profiles of those who hoarded, these containers will likely ignite, explode or otherwise be involved in some sort of accident. This is especially probable if they store them next to the rolls of toilet paper they hoarded during the “Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020.”