Gas shortage hits Highlands, Cashiers

Daily we are reminded how globally connected the world is these days.

Due to technology people can reach across the globe to do good, or to wreak havoc like the Ransomware attack that caused the Colonial Pipeline system to be shutdown Friday, May 7.

According to U.S. officials, the attack on Colonial Pipeline appears to have been carried out by an Eastern European-based criminal gang named Darkside.

In a statement Friday, Colonial Pipeline said it temporarily shut down all its pipeline operations after learning it had been hit by a cyber attack on some of its “information technology” or business network systems that day. As a result, the firm said, “We proactively took certain systems offline to contain the threat.” 

Colonial Pipeline’s, 5,500 miles of pipelines, which run from New Jersey to Texas, carries about half of the gasoline, diesel and other fuels used on the East Coast. 

Its pipelines carry fuel from refineries on the Gulf Coast to customers in the southern and eastern United States. It transports 45 percent of the fuel consumed on the East Coast – 2.5 million barrels a day — reaching 50 million Americans.

Ransomware attacks in which hackers lock up computer systems by encrypting data usually include a demand for payment to free up the system. This has become a global scourge. 

According to a report on the BBC, Darkside representatives said they didn’t mean to cause problems for society.

“Our goal is to make money not creating problems for society,” DarkSide wrote on its website.

In recent years, ransom attacks have affected everyone from banks and hospitals to universities and municipalities — almost 2,400 organizations in the United States were victimized last year alone, one security firm reported. But the attackers are increasingly targeting industrial sectors because these firms are more willing to pay up to regain control of their systems, experts say.

Due to this, locally there are fuel shortages in Highlands, Cashiers, Franklin and Clayton, GA.

The Bountyland fuel distributor group which services the Exxon and Mobil stations on the corner of Main and NC/106 and 1st Street in Highlands is sending fuel to its stations intermittently. 

“Bountyland is trying to make sure their stations have some fuel, but I have to limit it to $20 per vehicle,” said Lenny Metrick, manager of both stations. “But I expected a shipment Tuesday night and it didn’t come in.”

Stations in Clayton, Franklin and Cashiers have all run out of gas – and they are all in a “wait and see” mode.

Mid-day Tuesday, the Shell station manager in Cashiers, Nicholas Bolton said he was out of gas. 

“I had to shut down my pumps a few minutes ago,” he said. “We have to keep 100 gallons of fuel in tanks in the ground – which may sound like a lot, but it really isn’t – to keep impurities from causing problems with pumps.”

For the previous 36 hours Bolton said vehicles were backed up on US 64 east in Cashiers.

Like other stations in the area, Bolton hopes for a delivery each day but doesn’t know if it will happen or how much it will be. 

“We are just doing the best we can,” he said.

At the BP Station at the crossroads in Cashiers, manager Heather Shields echoed both Metrick and Bolton.

As of mid-day Tuesday, she said she had 6,000 gallons left but didn’t know how long that would last.

“I am allocating $20 per vehicle, too,” she said. “I am expecting a delivery on Thursday but I don’t know how much it will be so I may have to decrease the allocation.”

Mid-day Tuesday, Todd Taylor, manager of the 4th Street Market/Shell station in Highlands was directing traffic while alerting people to the $30/cash limit per vehicle.

“What I have now will be gone by the end of the day and I’m not expecting another delivery until Monday [May 17],” he said.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the MC Sheriff office and the Highlands Police Dept. were called in to help direct traffic and help deal with heated tempers.

On Monday, May 11, Colonial Pipeline said segments of the shuttered pipeline are being brought back online but its four main lines remain offline.

A number of factors could impact its ability to restore a significant portion by the end of the week with safety and compliance driving operational decisions.

Metrick said even when the pipeline comes fully back on, it will likely be weeks before the pipeline is running as it was prior to the ransomware attack.

Pictured at the top of the article, drivers lined up for their share of the $30/cash limit gas at 4th Street Market on Tuesday. 

Article and photo by Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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