Markets were braced for volatility in
US petrol and diesel prices as the country’s
biggest fuel pipeline remained
shut after a cyber attack.
The Colonial Pipeline, which carries 45 per cent of the fuel consumed on the US east coast, was taken offline on Friday, restricting the movement of petrol,
diesel and jet fuel from refineries on the Gulf coast to markets such as Atlanta, Washington and New York. The disruption comes as Americans begin travelling more with the lifting of coronavirus restrictions and just ahead of the US driving season, the country’s peak demand months. “I think we’re realising the gravity of it is maybe worse than what we’d expected,” said Patrick De Haan, head of petroleum analysis at data provider GasBuddy. He expected a “slight impact” when electronic trading resumed last night. But if the pipeline was not reopened quickly the impact on prices could become more severe. “There’s still a little breathing room, we’re starting to run low on it. But Monday, Tuesday, if there’s no news, you know we’re dealing with something fairly significant.”
The pipeline is the country’s biggest conduit for refined products, with a capacity of 2.5m barrels a day, or almost 15 per cent of total US demand. Gasoline demand in areas served by the pipeline rose about 4 per cent on Saturday compared with the previous week, according to GasBuddy, indicating a degree of panic buying as consumers fretted over the potential for a prolonged outage. The shutdown might trigger another rise in US petroleum imports, exposing the country’s energy vulnerability despite a decade of soaring domestic gas production. “The base case is that it’s resolved quickly, but if not US gasoline and diesel prices will have to rise very significantly to draw in sufficient imports from Europe,” said Robert Campbell, head of oil products research at consultancy Energy Aspects. Large pipelines rely on automation, increasing the disruption that can be caused by a computer hack. “This is definitely not a schoolboy prank. This is a highly sophisticated attack on a piece of critical infrastructure,” said Campbell. The White House said the government was “working actively to assess the implications of this incident, avoid disruption to supply, and help the company restore pipeline operations as quickly as possible”.