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Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday evening that it would relaunch after it was shut down for five days due to a cyberattack. Still, shortages in the southeast linger, and environmental advocates worry that an easing of regulations on fuel vapor restrictions may do more harm than good. Colonial said that it would take several days for supply chains to return to normal, and officials warn residents to avoid panic buying after average prices jumped above $3 per gallon for the first time since 2014. Meanwhile, experts have pointed out that the government has failed to sufficiently acknowledge cybercrime in its $2 trillion infrastructure plan.
Why This Matters: The Colonial incident highlights two significant issues facing the U.S. energy sector. First, that too often, we put all of our energy eggs into a single basket. Colonial is often called the “jugular” of America’s oil infrastructure, but pipelines carrying oil and natural gas have repeatedly been knocked out of commission, resulting in disaster and even death. Second, increasing cyberattacks present a significant threat to fossil fuel companies and America’s budding green energy sector.This time, the Biden administration temporarily waived environmental and labor regulations to soften the blow to the energy market. To avoid similar environmental sacrifices in the future, the administration must ensure a secure and diverse green energy market.
On Wednesday, twelve states and Washington DC experienced gas shortages, leaving more than 10,000 gas stations completely dry. Governors in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Florida declared states of emergency. In addition to urging consumers to be patient and not panic, on Tuesday, the EPA and the Department of Energy issued emergency fuel waivers to affected states. The measure waived the agency’s requirement of low-volatility gasoline, required in summer months to reduce pollution, and allowed shipment of more volatile blends through May 18th. The measures also loosened restrictions on vehicle weight and work hours for truck drivers due to a worker shortage.
Following the restart, Colonial says it “will move as much gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as is safely possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.” But this will hardly be the last cyber attack the energy industry faces. It’s not just hackers the government needs to worry about online; misinformation about the shortage spread like wildfire on social media. Conservative groups blamed President Biden’s executive order to cancel the Keystone XL pipeline, while others theorized the shutdown was a cover-up operation for an oil spill. This isn’t a unique response, but it’s one that the government will have to account for as the energy market enters a transitionary period that may leave it vulnerable to attacks and shutdowns like this one.
She Said It So We Didn’t Have To
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who is helping to lead the government’s response, briefed reporters at the White House Tuesday about gasoline shortages caused by the Colonial Pipeline ransomware hack. She had this “drop the mic” comment:
And, you know, if you drive an electric car, this would not be affecting you, clearly.”
First, this executive order protects federal networks….So we identified a small set of high-impact cyber defenses that, when implemented, make it harder for an adversary to compromise and operate on a hacked network. Tools like multi-factor authentication, encryption, endpoint detection response, logging, and operating in a zero-trust environment will be rolled out across government networks on a tight timeline as you’ll see in the EO.
Second, the executive order improves the security of commercial software by establishing baseline security requirements based on industry best practices, requiring that all software we buy meet these standards in nine months, and driving the market to secure products by giving consumers visibility into what they’re buying.
Third, the EO also establishes a Cyber Incident Review Board that will convene following a significant cyber incident to analyze what happened and make concrete recommendations for improving cybersecurity going forward.
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