On May 7 the Colonial Pipeline was shut down by a ransomware attack that disrupted the flow of gasoline, diesel and jet fuels, and heating oil to the East Coast. On January 20 the nearly completed Keystone XL pipeline was shut down by a stroke of President Biden’s pen within hours of his inauguration.
When the Colonial pipeline was shut down, retailers had to depend on drawing down local inventories, continued supplies from the much smaller Plantation pipeline and increased use of tanker trucks. In some markets these adjustments were not sufficient and the reduced supply (along with local laws that limit price increases) led to shortages and gas lines—reminiscent of the 1970s energy crisis. Were it not to get back in operation, the 100 million gallons per day the Colonial Pipeline delivers would be very difficult and expensive to replace. For instance, it would take 10,000 tanker truck trips per day to carry the same amount of fuel. The good news is that the operators expect the pipeline to be back in operation by the end of the week.
On the other hand, President Biden’s revocation of the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline means there is no hope of quickly regaining its capacity. Since that final part of Keystone XL had yet to be finished, that capacity was already met by trucks, trains, and simply doing without. Though very real, for the most part the costs of the permit revocation were invisible. Consumers and businesses were already paying the higher costs of the less efficient, less safe, and more expensive alternatives to pipeline transportation. Of course, the thousands of lost high-paying construction jobs were visible.
Eliminating a pipeline via a cyber attack made its benefits ever so clear. Similar benefits from another pipeline remain unrealized because of President Biden’s day-one executive order. It is ironic that the very secretive cyberattack brought to the public’s attention what a very public signing ceremony kept hidden—pipelines are important.