The 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline runs from Texas to New York © Logan Cyrus/Getty Images
The 5,500-mile Colonial Pipeline runs from Texas to New York © Logan Cyrus/Getty Images

US mulls law change as states suffer fuel 'supply crunch'

12 May 2021

The US government is considering changing the law to boost fuel supply after the cyber hack on the Colonial Pipeline led to shortages.

The Department Of Transportation (DoT) has “started the work needed to enable consideration of a temporary and targeted waiver of the Jones Act”.

The Jones Act requires that vessels shipping merchandise between US ports by water must be built, owned and registered in the US.

The DoT is also evaluating resources the federal government could mobilise to mitigate potential impacts.

The 5,500 mile-long Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New York, was hit by a cyber attack involving ransomware earlier this month. Some states have reported fuel shortages and there have been reports of motorists stocking up.

The DoT said it had started a survey to see if there was sufficient capacity on Jones Act-qualified vessels to carry petroleum products from Gulf of Mexico and up the Eastern seaboard, and determine whether a waiver of the Act was warranted.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is also canvassing rail operators to determine their capacity to help transport fuel from ports inland, identify capacity pressures, and see what other measures could be taken.

The states of Georgia and North Carolina have issued emergency declarations, which included weight waivers for trucks on state roads.  

Other states are considering similar action, the DoT said, and it was working with all potentially effected states to share information and best practice.

West Virginia has been added to the list of states covered by a temporary hours of service exemption. It applies to those transporting gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and other refined petroleum products to Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

The Environmental Protection Agency has also waived rules to increase the supply of fuel.

Colonial said it expects to substantially restore operations by the end of this week.

However US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm, said: “I want to be clear that these states who are impacted, even with the turning on of the pipeline system, they still may feel a supply crunch as Colonial fully resumes.”

She added: “Let me emphasise that, much as there was no cause for, say, hoarding toilet paper at the beginning of the pandemic, 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.

“So, at the same time, it certainly is a reminder that we need to take a hard look at how we need to harden our necessary infrastructure, and that includes cyber threats.”

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