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Northam declares state of emergency as Virginia deals with gas pipeline cyberattack
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Northam declares state of emergency as Virginia deals with gas pipeline cyberattack

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday declared a state of emergency in Virginia because of gasoline supply disruptions caused by a cyberattack on a key East Coast fuel pipeline.

The emergency declaration came as long lines formed at some gasoline pumps across the state on Tuesday along with spotty outages of gas, as some people rushed to fill up their tanks following the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline.

The Walmart Neighborhood Market on Dale Avenue near Vinton was one affected location in the Roanoke area. Employee Robert Gray said right when he came in for his 3 p.m. shift, the station closed because it was out of gas. “There were cars lined up along the highway,” he said.

In Richmond, a Costco store on West Broad Street had a line of drivers waiting to buy gasoline. A Costco employee outside the store told those waiting in like that “everyone is panicking because of the pipeline issue.”

A line of cars formed at the Sam’s Club store off of West Broad Street in Henrico County, where motorists were trying to buy gas at $2.62 per gallon for regular unleaded.

Kroger also shut down gas pumps at several Richmond-area locations on Tuesday afternoon because of shortages.

“There will be some supply disruptions due to the cyberattack on Colonial Pipeline and spot outages may occur,” a Kroger spokesperson said Tuesday. “We are doing our best to maintain supplies where we can and looking forward to a return to normal as soon as possible.”

The same scramble for gas was being seen in other states after the pipeline, which moves about 45% of the East Coast’s fuel, was shut down Friday after its computer servers were hit by a ransomware attack, a type of attack in which hackers seize control of an organization’s computer system and demand a ransom payment to unlock it.

The FBI confirmed that a criminal gang of hackers called DarkSide, believed or be operating in eastern Europe, was responsible for the cyberattack.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has issued a temporary fuel transportation waiver to increase the supply of gasoline, and Northam’s emergency declaration allows state agencies to issue their own waivers as required by the state. The declaration also provides increased flexibility and funding for state and local governments to ensure adequate fuel supply.

“This emergency declaration will help the Commonwealth prepare for any potential supply shortages and ensure Virginia motorists have access to fuel as we respond to this evolving situation,” Northam said in a statement.

However, many gasoline retailers were saying Tuesday that they still have supplies, and some gas market observers were urging people to remain calm and avoid panic buying.

“So far we are not out of gas,” said Teju Patadia, who owns 11 stations in Virginia including some in the Roanoke area. He predicted little to no ill effects at his company due to the temporary disruption.

He urged members of the public to not purchase gasoline out of fear. The current situation won’t worsen to the point of halting retail fuel sales throughout the region and should resolve itself by this weekend, he said.

During the temporary disruption, those who need gasoline may have the best luck finding it at vendors of branded gasoline, which sells under such labels as Exxon, Marathon and BP, because they have better access to bulk supplies than sellers of unbranded gasoline, such as Kroger and Walmart, he said.

“There is no question that the Colonial Pipeline outage is becoming a significant event for the entire East Coast as it supplies over 50% of fuel supply to end consumers in many markets that it serves,” said Lori Bruce, a spokeswoman for Wawa Inc., a major chain of convenience stores.

“However, I can share that Wawa has had no interruption of supply at its stores in our six states and plans on maintaining supply through this event,” Bruce said.

Henrico County-based GPM Investments LLC, the parent company of the Fas Mart convenience store chain and hundreds of others across the country, said Tuesday it has had “spot outages” of gasoline.

“As of this morning, we have spot outages in certain areas but nothing widespread at this time,” said Arie Kotler, chairman, president and CEO of Arko Corp. the parent company of GPM. “We are mostly branded fuel and have many brands and supply relationships, so we are able to pull resources from other markets.”

Sheetz, another major convenience store chain, said Tuesday that it is not experiencing any widespread gasoline outages.

“As the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline continues, our teams at Sheetz are working to address any supply issues at our store locations,” the chain said. “As of now, there are no widespread outages at our stores, although certain grades of gasoline could be temporarily unavailable while our fueling teams replenish supplies. We apologize for any inconvenience caused to our customers and thank them for their patience while we navigate this situation.”

AAA on Monday said it forecasts gas prices to climb this week in reaction to the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New York City.

“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally,” said Jeanette McGee, a AAA spokesperson. “Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the east coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases. These states may see prices increase three to seven cents this week.”

Roanoke Times staff writers Jeff Sturgeon and Casey Fabris and photographer Heather Rousseau contributed information to this report.

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