President Joe Biden on Thursday addressed the ransomware attack that forced the shutdown of a vital U.S. fuel pipeline last week, seeking to reassure Americans whose panic-buying has made a combustible situation far worse.
While a return to normalcy should begin this weekend and into the beginning of next week, the president warned that it won’t be instantaneous.
“We will not feel the effects at the pump immediately,” he cautioned. “This is not like flicking a light switch.”
Colonial Pipeline restarted operations Wednesday on the 5,500-mile pipeline system that carries refined products from Texas to New Jersey, and was at full operational capacity as of Thursday morning, Biden said.
In the meantime, the federal government has enacted emergency orders lifting weight restrictions for truck drivers, allowing them to carry more fuel, and is temporarily allowing non-U.S.-flagged ships to carry fuel from the Gulf of Mexico to affected areas.
Emphasizing the transitory nature of the crisis, Biden told drivers not to panic.
“Don’t panic, number one,” he said. “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.”
“Gasoline supply is coming back online,” he reiterated. “Panic buying will only slow the process.”
Photos of panicked Americans doing exactly that have gone viral in recent days, with some filling plastic bags and other unsafe receptacles with large volumes of fuel.
The unsafe hoarding prompted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission to issue a stark warning Wednesday morning:
Colonial Pipeline reportedly paid a group of Eastern European hackers nearly $5 million in untraceable cryptocurrency to regain access to its network, contradicting earlier reports that the company had managed to restore its systems without coughing up a hefty ransom.
Biden declined to comment on that specific report, though he did use the opportunity to call for significant safeguarding of critical U.S. infrastructure, the majority of which is privately owned, he noted.
“I cannot dictate that private companies do certain things relative to cybersecurity,” he said, but “it’s becoming clear to everyone that we have to do more than is being done now, and the federal government can be a significant value added in making that happen.”
“This event is providing an urgent reminder of why we need to harden our infrastructure and make it resilient against all threats, natural and manmade,” he said.