Federal regulators on Sunday lifted hours of service (HoS) rules for truck drivers transporting gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel as part of the government’s emergency response to a cyber-attack that has frozen a critical oil pipeline connecting Texas to New Jersey.
The 5,500-mile pipeline was turned off on Friday after Atlanta-based Colonial Pipeline Co. said it discovered that hackers had installed ransomware in its systems. In response, the company halted all pipeline operations, hired a third-party cybersecurity firm, and contacted law enforcement and other federal agencies.
By Sunday night, the company had restarted some “smaller lateral lines between terminals and delivery points,” but said its four main lines remained switched off. As IT experts continue efforts to repair the computer damage, the company on Monday said it was looking for ways to restore oil flows.
“We continue to evaluate product inventory in storage tanks at our facilities and others along our system and are working with our shippers to move this product to terminals for local delivery,” Colonial Pipeline said in a release. “Actions taken by the Federal Government to issue a temporary hours of service exemption for motor carriers and drivers transporting refined products across Colonial’s footprint should help alleviate local supply disruptions and we thank our government partners for their assistance in resolving this matter.”
The oil freeze is significant because Colonial Pipeline says its system delivers some 45% of total fuel consumed on the East Coast.
By temporarily lifting its caps on truck drivers’ hours behind the wheel, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) could help the transportation industry use trucks to work around the frozen pipeline. The exemption applies to drivers hauling certain refined petroleum products in Alabama, Arkansas, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
The increased demand for trucking capacity to move the stuck fuel comes as freight markets were already at their tightest point in years, due to pandemic disruptions such as a lingering shortage of drivers and a steep economic recovery.
According to the load board network operator DAT Freight & Analytics, spot truckload rates remained near all-time highs during the week ending May 3, just a year after they bottomed out during pandemic business and travel closures.
The Portland, Oregon-based firm’s statistics did not cover tanker trucks, but said the seven-day average line-haul rate (excluding fuel surcharges) for dry vans was $2.27 a mile last week, 95 cents higher than the same period one year ago. Likewise, spot refrigerated freight averaged $2.61 per mile (up 94 cents) and the average flatbed rate was $2.62 per mile (up 93 cents).