Brief fuel shortage in Lincoln County, Colonial pays ransom

Last Thursday, the Chevron station on Thornton Taylor parkway was temporarily out of unleaded gas.


 As has been widely reported, Colonial Pipeline was hacked last week by a group known as DarkSide. The pipeline, which stretches 5,000 miles and supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel, found its data held at ransom by the assailing group, who were demanding $5 million. Tennessee was among the states affected, with 16% of its gas stations experiencing fuel outages as a result of the attack. Despite this troubling figure, however, Tennessee did not face the worst of the fallout, as other southeastern states experienced fuel outages as high as 65%.

In Lincoln County, the effects were observable but not debilitating. Last Thursday, a citizen visiting a local Chevron station could find an absence of unleaded ethanol, but this situation did not appear to last longer than one day. Gas prices uniformly rose throughout the week, however, with AAA reporting an average rise of three cents. As of May 11, the average gas price in Tennessee was $2.72.

Gas stations all over the southeast saw long lines and the frantic purchase of fuel, but there was little evidence of this occurring in Lincoln County. Anecdotally, gas stations appeared busy, but nothing resembling mass panic-buying has been reported.

Additionally, Lincoln County does not rely heavily on public transit, a piece of infrastructure that the Department of Energy and Homeland Security expressed might be heavily impacted after several days of diminished fuel supply.

Fortunately, even for more urban parts of the state, a long wait for fresh fuel appears to be a crisis successfully averted. It was last Wednesday evening, five days after the pipeline shut down, that Colonial announced it would resume the transit of fuel. Several days would be needed for the pipeline to resume its typical efficiency, but things appear to be returning to normal.

A crucial detail in the return to normal, however, is that Colonial paid the ransom of $5 million – in the form of 75 BitCoin, as it happens – which is in opposition to the long-held stance of the FBI. “The FBI does not support paying a ransom in response to a ransomware attack. Paying a ransom doesn’t guarantee you or your organization will get any data back. It also encourages perpetrators to target more victims and offers an incentive for others to get involved in this type of illegal activity,” reads the department’s website.

Whether or not paying the ransom was the correct decision is a matter of opinion, but, irrespective of philosophy, a potential fuel crisis in Tennessee has been avoided.