A cyberattack that shut down a major U.S. pipeline May 7 has induced fuel shortages across much of the Southeast and highlighted cybersecurity weaknesses in the nation’s energy infrastructure.

Colonial Pipeline, which supplies the East Coast with 45 percent of its fuel, paused its service after a hacker group known as DarkSide broke into its servers and demanded money to restore access.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happened to the gas supply?
  • Have gas prices spiked?
  • What more are federal officials doing to help?
  • When will the fuel shortage end?
  • Where can I get gas in the meantime?
  • Are other parts of the country vulnerable to shortages?

What happened to the gas supply?

The Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline, which carries fuel from Houston through the Southeast and up the East Coast to New Jersey, restarted some of its service Monday amid fears of price spikes and fuel shortages. A White House task force created to respond to the crisis and the Transportation Department temporarily relaxed fuel transport rules to make it easier to distribute gasoline. Governors in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and Florida also took steps to ease transport rules as they declared states of emergency.

As people flock to fill their tanks, the supply problem is compounded by a shortage of truck drivers to fill the gaps in service. More than 10,000 gas stations across the Southeast were out of fuel Wednesday, with high rates of outages in the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia.

Have gas prices spiked?

The average price per gallon jumped to $3 Wednesday, according to AAA — a cost not experienced since November 2014. The price also represented a 7-cent jump from last Wednesday.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has warned gas station operators that federal officials will have “no tolerance for price-gouging.” She encouraged anyone who suspects it is happening in their state to contact their state attorney general’s office.

What more are federal officials doing to help?

The Department of Homeland Security is considering waiving the Jones Act, a federal law that says only U.S. ships built, owned, operated and crewed by Americans can transport goods, such as refined fuels, between U.S. ports. The law was created to protect U.S. businesses from foreign competition and ensure domestic supplies. But it has been waived in cases of emergency.

If federal officials waive the Jones Act, foreign ships could help bring refined fuels into U.S. ports. Authorities have not indicated when they plan to make a decision.

When will the fuel shortage end?

Colonial Pipeline returned to normal operations Thursday, with the pipeline fully reactivated and gasoline shipments restarted. Several states still face fuel shortages, with long lines for gas and some service stations completely empty. President Biden said the area serviced by Colonial will face a “region-by-region return to normalcy beginning this weekend and continuing into next week."

Where can I get gas in the meantime?

Panicked drivers rushing to fill their tanks are driving unnecessary scarcity, experts said. So if you do not need fuel right away, consider waiting until supply increases in the next few days.

“Overall, this has turned into a panic and hoarding situation,” Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy’s head oil analyst, told CNBC. “There’s fuel in these markets yet.”

If you really need to fill up, the GasBuddy smartphone app will show you which stations have fuel. The website tracker.gasbuddy.com provides the same information.

Be sure to follow safety tips if you want to fill extra containers of gas. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission warned consumers Wednesday to use only cans made for storing gasoline — not plastic bags or other storage devices. Never pour gasoline near fire, as fuel is highly flammable.

Are other parts of the country vulnerable to shortages?

There is no reason to expect gas stations to run dry outside the areas serviced by the Colonial Pipeline. Unnecessarily filling up your tanks in other areas is just likely to needlessly deplete supplies.

This FAQ draws on reporting from Hannah Denham, Will Englund, Rory Laverty, Ellen Nakashima, Taylor Telford and Kevin Schaul.