Gas prices back on the rise

Coffee County  is feeling the aftermath of a cyber-attack on a major fuel pipeline last week as panic caused by the threat of gas shortages has become a self-fulfilling prophecy with worried drivers sucking some pumps dry.

The Colonial Pipeline, which runs from Texas to New Jersey and pumps about 25 million gallons of fuel a day, was recently targeted by a group of hackers identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as the DarkSide. The pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel used along the east coast, shut down Friday after a ransomware attack by the cyber gang.

While the Volunteer State’s supply of fuel is not as severely impacted as the east coast by the shutdown, the pipeline does serve parts of Tennessee like Chattanooga and Nashville, meaning there could be impact at the pump.

"We can expect Tennessee gas prices to rise anywhere from three to seven cents. Of course, if that pipeline stays shut down for a while longer, we can see some more significant gas price increases, as well as some local outages in a lot of our areas," said Megan Cooper, AAA spokesperson.

While shortages could be possible if the pipeline stays shutdown for an extended period, Colonial said it believed it would be able to go back online by Friday, thereby minimizing the impact when it comes to shortages and long term price jumps.

However, panic caused by the threat of shortages prompted a run on gas throughout the Mid-State thereby causing some stations to run out of fuel as customers began hording gas, some filling large containers full of fuel. The secondary impact was a rise in prices above the amount predicted by AAA with at least one station in Coffee County boosted its price to $3.29 per gallon. In Tullahoma, some prices rose to $2.99 a gallon by Wednesday although many remained in the $2.79 range. Nearby areas such as Warren County saw massive outages as station after station reported being out of gas. Murfreesboro also reported wide-spread outages.

The panic led to a plea by the Coffee County Emergency Management Agency for people to stop their panic buying of fuel since the rush itself is what is driving the shortage and spike in price at some stations.

“Please refrain from panic purchasing of gas and diesel fuel over the next couple of weeks,” the emergency management agency requested. “There is currently not a gas shortage in Tennessee. Certainly purchase what you need but over buying and filling canisters is not necessary and makes the situation worse. Please use common sense.”

The root of the problem is a dark web hacking organization.

First surfacing on Russian language hacking forums in August 2020, DarkSide is a ransomware-as-a-service platform that vetted cybercriminals can use to infect companies with ransomware and carry out negotiations and payments with victims. DarkSide says it targets only big companies, and forbids affiliates from dropping ransomware on organizations in several industries, including healthcare, funeral services, education, public sector and non-profits.