- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 13, 2021

President Biden said Thursday that Colonial Pipeline is taking fuel to most of its markets and reaching full capacity “as we speak,” but a return to normal might take until the weekend.

“We will not feel the effects at the pump immediately. This is not like flipping on a light switch,” Mr. Biden said from the White House. “There might be some hiccups along the way here.”

Mr. Biden also said he doesn’t believe the Russian government is behind the ransomware attack that shuttered the pipeline but he believes the DarkSide operators blamed for the attack live there.

“That’s where it came from,” he said, adding that his administration contacted Moscow.

The Energy Department said it got the pipeline back online late Wednesday after multiple days of shortages and panic-buying that caused long lines at the pump and higher prices at stations that weren’t forced to close.

When operating, the pipeline is a critical artery that carries more than 3 billion barrels of fuel daily between the Gulf Coast to the harbor of New York and is responsible for delivering 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.

The president said he granted a waiver to a company that wanted to deliver fuel outside of the confines of the Jones Act, which requires maritime cargo transport between U.S. ports to occur on U.S.-flagged vessels.

Mr. Biden declined to comment on a Bloomberg News report that said Colonial paid $5 million in ransom to the Eastern European hackers shortly after the May 7 attack that shut down the pipeline. The outlet said the Georgia-based operator used untraceable cryptocurrency to fulfill the demand from hackers despite media reports that said the operator had no plans to pay.

Bloomberg, citing people familiar with the situation, said hackers supplied the pipeline operator with a decrypting tool to get back up and running, but it performed slowly, forcing the pipeline to rely on its own backup efforts during the week.

Brandon Wales, the acting director of the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, said he could not confirm the payment during a virtual forum Thursday.

“I can confirm that we recommend against paying ransom because it just feeds the business model. I cannot confirm or deny whether Colonial paid the ransom. Only Colonial will be able to answer that question,” Mr. Wales said.

FTI Consulting, which is assisting the pipeline, told The Washington Times “as this is an ongoing investigation, Colonial Pipeline is not commenting on Bloomberg’s reporting at this time.”

Mr. Biden said, “I have no comment on that,” after his administration spent the week highlighting FBI advice that says entities shouldn’t pay ransoms.

Pressed on whether Colonial’s reported action will prompt others to flout the advice, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said it “doesn’t feel particularly constructive to call out companies in that manner at this time.”

Stations in several states ran out of gas as customers hoarded supplies and efforts to drive or ship extra gas into locales failed to keep up.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein told CNN on Thursday that panic-buying was counterproductive and needed to stop, comparing it to customers who bought more toilet paper than they needed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Do not get more gas than you need in the next few days,” Mr. Biden said. “Panic-buying will only slow the process.”

Mr. Biden also warned gas stations not to take advantage of customers through price-gouging, saying they will be caught.

⦁ Andrew Blake contributed to this report.

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