(Reuters) – Colonial Pipeline said on Wednesday that it had begun restarting the country's largest pipeline network, six days after a ransomware attack caused it to close the line, triggering fuel shortages and panic in the southeastern United States.  It will take several days for the fuel supply chain to return to normal, Colonial said, even as people in the southeastern states climbed to fill their tanks when the stations ran out of gas. Observers reported that fistfights broke out over fuel supplies in North Carolina and elsewhere.
Colonial shutdown halted 2.5 million barrels per day of transportation of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel last Friday after the most disruptive cyber attack ever on US energy infrastructure.
Sources familiar with Colonial's response said the company does not plan to pay the ransom demanded by hackers who encrypted data on the pipeline, which stretches 5,500 miles from US Gulf Coast oil refineries to consumers in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern states.
The delivery crisis caused panic purchases in the southeastern United States, leading to long lines and high prices at gas stations before the Memorial Day weekend in late May, the traditional start of the high summer driving season.
Nearly 60% of the metro stations in Metro Atlanta were without gasoline, says the tracking company GasBuddy. The survey showed 65% of stations in North Carolina and 43% in Georgia and South Carolina without fuel. Virginia also reported major outages.
U.S. Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg said the administration is addressing fuel shortages and helping restore colonial operations.
"Our highest priority right now is to get the fuel to the communities that need it, and we will continue to do everything we can to achieve that goal in the next few days," Secretary Buttigieg told reporters at the White House.
At a Citgo station in East Atlanta, Charles Williams (66), an Atlanta-based musician, filled his wife's Mini Cooper, after seeing people with large jerry cans charging.
"I would not say I know they hoard, but I do not know if they help," he said. "If gas is sold out everywhere, well, it's time to start worrying."
The privately owned Colonial Pipeline opened parts of the line manually in Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey and the Carolinas. It also accepted 2 million barrels of fuel to begin efforts to "substantially" restore operations by the end of the week, the company said.
The average national gasoline price rose to over $ 3.00 per gallon, the highest since October 201
Inhibition creating more shortages
Representatives of the fuel industry urged consumers to stop buying panic. They noted that the country has a good supply of petrol and said that hoarding creates shortages in areas not served by the pipeline.
"Retailers have just sold several days' stock in a matter of hours," said Rob Underwood, president of America's Energy Marketers.
Four southeastern states – Florida, North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia – joined federal regulators in relaxing driver and fuel restrictions to speed up deliveries of supplies. Georgia lifted sales tax on gasoline until Saturday.
The FBI has accused a shady criminal gang called DarkSide of the ransomware attack. The group, which is believed to be based in Russia or Eastern Europe, has not directly taken credit for the Colonial hack, but on Wednesday they claimed that they had broken systems at three other companies, including an Illinois technology company.
Russia's Embassy in the United States The United States rejected speculation that Moscow was behind the attack. On Monday, President Biden said that so far there was no evidence that Russia was responsible.
Refineries, airlines react
It was not known how much money the hackers were looking for.
Gulf Coast refineries moving fuel to market on the Colonial Pipeline have reduced processing. Total SE-tuned gasoline production in Port Arthur, Texas, the refinery and Citgo Petroleum were eliminated at its Lake Charles, Louisiana facility.
Citgo said it was moving products from Lake Charles and "exploring alternative delivery methods to other affected markets." Marathon Petroleum said it was "making adjustments."
Several airlines have transported fuel by truck or refueled aircraft to destinations American Airlines said it would resume on Thursday non-stop service on two long-haul flights out of its Charlotte, North Carolina, hub.
Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian said the airline has been told fuel supplies will be available available "hopefully by the end of the week and as long as these predictions come true we will hopefully be OK.