Biden on Resuming Gasoline Flow After Pipeline Restart: ‘This Is Not Like Flicking on a Light Switch’

Melanie Arter | May 13, 2021 | 2:42pm EDT
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President Joe Biden speaks about the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 13, 2021. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden speaks about the Colonial Pipeline cyber attack, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 13, 2021. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

( – Now that the Colonial Pipeline Company has restarted the flow of fuel to states along the East Coast, it will take some time before people see a change at the gas pump, President Joe Biden said Thursday."

“As of yesterday evening, Colonial has begun restarting the flow of refined products in their pipeline. This morning, Colonial reported that fuel is beginning to flow to a majority of markets that they service. They should be reaching full operational capacity as we speak, as I speak to you right now. That is good news, but I want to be clear. We’ll not feel the effects at the pump immediately. This is not like flicking on a light switch,” he said.

“This pipeline is 5,500 miles long. It had never been fully shutdown in its entire history, and so fully and we have to – now they have to safely and fully return to normal operations, and it’s going to take some time. There may be some hic- hic- hiccups, like I just had, along the way here. Still we expect to see a region by region return to normalcy beginning this weekend and continuing into next week,” Biden said.

The president laid out the steps that his administration is taking to accelerate the process, mitigate shortages, and protect consumers from price gouging.

First, we relaxed rules for pipeline operators to provide flexibility for emergency personnel to manually get portions of the pipeline up and running earlier this week. Secondly, over the weekend we reviewed and worked with a company to get a portion of the pipeline system from North Carolina to Maryland to operate under manual control, and deliver its existing inventory. In addition, we put in place emergency orders that lifts out the hours restrictions and allowed states to lift weight restrictions for tank truck drivers to be on the road. This allows those drivers to work more and carry more fuel to the affected regions. 

Third, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a targeted 20 day waiver of standards in several states to give fuel suppliers more flexibility to use available fuels where they’re needed, which will boost fuel supply, and those last two actions have made tens of millions of gallons of additional fuel available each day to be able to be distributed. Put another way, the extraordinary measures the administration has taken we estimate sent enough gas to stations to fill the tanks of 5 million vehicles in the last few days. 

Fourthly, as part of an effort to use every possible means to accelerate fuel deliveries, last night I granted a fuel waiver of the Jones Act to fuel suppliers. This allows non-U.S. flag vessels to transport refined fuel products from the Gulf of Mexico to affected areas, and we’ll grant additional waivers if necessary. These steps are temporary, but they’ll remain in place until full service is fully restored. 

The president also cautioned consumers not to panic despite seeing long lines at gas stations and no gas in many cases.

"Don’t panic, number one. I know seeing lines at the pumps or gas stations with no gas can be extremely stressful, but this is a temporary situation. Do not get more gas than you need in the next few days. As I said, we expect the situation to begin to improve by the weekend and into early next weekend, and gasoline supply is coming back online, and panic buying will only slow the process, and I also want to say something to the gas stations," Biden said.

"Do not. I repeat, do not try to take advantage of consumers during this time. I’m gonna work with governors of the affected states to put a stop to price gouging wherever it arises, and I’m asking our federal agencies to stand ready to provide assistance to state-level efforts to monitor and address any price gouging at the pump. Nobody should be using this situation for financial gain. That’s what the hackers are trying to do. That’s what they are about, not us," he said.

As for the group behind the ransomware attack – DarkSide, which is based in Russia, Biden said that “the FBI has released details on the attack so others can take steps to prevent from being victimized like Colonial has been.”

We do not believe – I emphasize – we do not believe the Russian government was involved in this attack, but we do have strong reason to believe that the criminals who did the attack are in living Russia. That's where it came from. … We have been in direct communication with Moscow about the imperative for responsible countries to take decisive action against these ransomware networks. 

We are also going to pursue a measure to disrupt their ability to operate, and our Justice Department has launched a new task force dedicated to prosecuting ransomware hackers to the full extent of the law. Finally, let me say that this event is providing an urgent reminder of why we need to harden our infrastructure and make it more resilient against all threats – natural and manmade. 

My administration is continuing to safeguard our critical infrastructure the majority of which is privately owned and managed like Colonial Pipeline. Private entities are in charge of their own cyber security, and we need -- we know they need. They need greater private sector investment in cyber security and that’s why we launched a new public-private initiative in April that is focusing on strengthening cyber security in the electric sector for natural gas, for pipelines, as well as water systems and other lifeline sectors.

And last night, I signed an executive order to improve the nation’s cybersecurity. It calls for federal agencies to work more closely with the private sector, to share information, strengthen cyber security practices and deploy technologies and increase reliance against cyberattacks. It outlines innovative ways that the government will drive to deliver security and software, using federal buying power to jumpstart the market and improve the products that all Americans use.

When asked at what point the United States tries to inflict pain on governments that allow this sort of thing to happen in their territory, Biden said, “We are working to try to get to the place where we have sort of an international standard that governments knowing that criminal activity is happening from their territory, that we all move on those criminal enterprises. I expect that's one of the topics I'm going to be talking about with President Putin.”

As to whether he’s confident that Russian President Vladimir Putin was not involved, the president said, “I am confident that I read the report of the FBI accurately, and they say they were not, he was not, government was not.”

When asked what concrete steps the administration is taking to make sure companies are prepared and held accountable for their cybersecurity issues, Biden said he “cannot dictate that the private companies do certain things relative to cyber security.” 

“A lot of you are very seasoned reporters. You’ve been covering this debate up on the Capitol Hill for before I became president and unrelated to President Trump, just a debate internally among senators as to whether or not the government should be assisting, and that gets into privacy issues and a whole range of things, so that’s going to be an ongoing negotiation, but I think it’s becoming clear to everyone that we have to do more than being done now, and the federal government can be significant value added in having that happen,” he said.

“Would you consider doing any kind of retaliatory cyberattacks to shut down these criminals? Are ruling that out?” a reporter asked, to which the president replied: “No.”

When asked whether he was briefed on the fact that the Colonial Pipeline Company paid the $5 million ransom, Biden said, “I have no comment on that.”

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