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Maryland takes steps to ease fuel shortages caused by pipeline shutdown

Oil storage tanks owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company in Linden, N.J. A major pipeline that transports fuels along the East Coast says it had to stop operations because it was the victim of a cyberattack. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Oil storage tanks owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company in Linden, New Jersey. A major pipeline that transports fuels along the East Coast, Colonial says it had to stop operations because it was the victim of a cyberattack. (AP File Photo/Mark Lennihan)

Maryland officials are moving to boost the flow of gasoline supplies into Maryland to offset the temporary loss of a major supply pipeline for the East Coast.

The Office of the Comptroller announced Tuesday that it has offering waivers and temporary permits to allow for easier distribution of fuel to merchants and consumers. Under the actions taken, fuel distributors could bolster supplies by using available stores of a formulation that is typically used in colder winter months. Maryland and other states typically move to a formulation that causes lower vapors during warm and hot months.

“Our fuel specifications change throughout the year for a variety of reasons,” said Jeff Kelly, director of field enforcement for the comptroller’s office. “Colder weather requires a certain kind of fuel and warmer weather requires a different variety of fuel. What would allowed in April may not be allowed in May but can now be allowed in May through May 18.”

The changes, made in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, are an effort to offset potential shortages caused by a ransomware attack on a pipeline that supplies gasoline from Texas refineries to the East Coast.

The temporary waivers and permits are similar to those issued by the comptroller when weather or other events could potentially threaten the supply of motor fuel.

Kelly said his office is also working with the Port of Baltimore to ease availability of gasoline being brought in from Texas by barges and tankers.

“While people are going to hear stories of gasoline not being accessible in the Eastern part of the United States, we benefit from having a port system and we are able to bring the fuel in through the barges,” said Kelly. “My understanding is the Gulf Coast has a storage problem, where they have so much more fuel than they can pump out and they’re running out of places to store it so they are loading up more barges and fuel tankers that we can receive in Baltimore.”

The waiver remains in effect through next Tuesday but can be renewed if necessary, Kelly said.

“It’s a function of getting some guidance from the EPA,” said Kelly. “I would imagine if things haven’t greatly improved then they’ll allow us to extend it.”

The Colonial Pipeline was shut down after a cyber attack believe to be connected to a Russian group. The pipeline supplies 45% of all gasoline sent to the East Coast.

“This shutdown will have implications on both gasoline supply and prices, but the impact will vary regionally. Areas including Mississippi, Tennessee and the East Coast from Georgia into Delaware are most likely to experience limited fuel availability and price increases, as early as this week,” said Ragina C. Ali, a spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “These states, including Maryland, may see prices increase 3 to 7 cents this week.”

Gasoline was averaging $2.90 per gallon on average in Maryland Monday, according to the motorists’ association.

The club said it expected prices to increase 4-9 cents in the coming week. Some stations in the Baltimore area were already reporting gasoline at or above $3 per gallon on Tuesday.

Supply in other pipelines as well as a temporary exemptions in regulations by the U.S. Department of Transportation are expected to help alleviate some concerns about available supply.

Federal officials said Tuesday afternoon that the pipeline could be up and running within a few days. AAA Mid-Atlantic cautioned that it could still take two to three weeks to get back to full capacity in the pipeline.

 


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