By Natalie DeCoste

Drivers in the Southeast region of the U.S. are seeing rising gas prices after a ransomware attack shut down the Colonial Pipeline.

The Colonial Pipeline is the largest U.S. refined products pipeline system and a critical artery to deliver gasoline along the East Coast, delivering roughly 45% of the fuel consumed in the region. Last week, the pipeline was shut down following a ransomware attack that U.S. officials have linked to a criminal gang known as DarkSide.

The attack has caused a ripple effect resulting in long lines at the pump and a jump in prices. According to data collected by price and fuel tracker GasBuddy on May 10, gasoline demand across the U.S. was up about 20% from the week prior. Demand is up even higher in five states fed by the Colonial Pipeline. Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia saw collective demand go up 40.1%.

The impact of this shutdown is so significant that North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed an Executive Order declaring a state of emergency and temporarily suspend motor vehicle fuel regulations to ensure adequate fuel supply throughout the state.

“Today’s emergency declaration will help North Carolina prepare for any potential motor vehicle fuel supply interruptions across the state and ensure motorists are able to have access to fuel,” said Governor Cooper in a press release from his office.

In Georgia, roughly 240 gas stations across the state, or about 3.8% of the state’s total, ran out of fuel by Tuesday morning. Those numbers were even worse in Virginia, where the figure was 7.5%. Meanwhile, more than 5% of North Carolina gas stations were out of fuel, and roughly 1.7% were out in South Carolina.

All of these shortages are causing the national price of gas to spike. According to AAA, the national price at the pump hit $2.985 on Tuesday, the highest level in nearly six years. The last time gas prices were up this high was November 2014, when average gas prices were $2.99 and higher.

“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. These states may see prices increase 3 to 7 cents this week,” AAA spokesperson Jeanette McGee said in a statement.

The disruption comes at a time when gas prices were already climbing due to other factors. Additionally, many Americans were expected to get on the road and travel for Memorial Day weekend after the rising COVID-19 vaccination rates.

“We have gasoline. We just have to get it to the right places. And that’s why I think the next couple of days will be challenging,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm in a White House briefing.

The EPA has also taken action, this morning it issued a waiver under the Clean Air Act (CAA) lifting volatility restrictions on gasoline. The waver will last through May 18, at which point fuel manufacturers may not produce or import gasoline that does not meet the CAA standards.

Rising gas prices may amplify pressures on consumers who are already facing higher costs on various consumer goods, from poultry to appliances.