TAMPA, Fla. — The confluence of a ransomware attack, the normal price increases for the summer, summer travel plans, and the beginning of hurricane season could be the perfect storm for gas prices to continue to soar, with prices nearing three dollars a gallon.
As of Monday, the average price for a gallon of unleaded gas in the United States ran $2.97, according to AAA. West Coast states are already reporting prices higher than three dollars a gallon with California prices topping four dollars a gallon. Florida has the highest prices in the Southeast with prices coming in at $2.88 per gallon, per AAA. The most urgent concern with prices came after a cyberattack last weekend.
The Colonial Pipeline remains shutdown Monday after a ransomware attack targeted the company. The pipeline runs more than 5,500 miles and transports roughly 45 percent of all fuel consumed on the East Coast of the United States, CNN reported. Colonial said it would not open the pipeline again until they believe it is safe to do so. The shutdown comes at a particularly bad time for drivers just before the annual peak of seasonal prices.
Gas typically rises to the highest prices starting around Memorial Day and the first several weeks of summer. The seasonal rise coincides with the largest demand for gas during the year and as refineries switch formulas to a cleaner burning summer blend. Still, the U.S. Energy Information Agency warns that “gasoline prices can change rapidly if something disrupts crude oil supplies, refinery operations, or gasoline pipeline deliveries.
Besides the seasonal price swing and Colonial Pipeline attack/shutdown, tens of millions of Americans are planning to travel this summer. According to Tripadvisor’s 2021 Summer Travel Index, two-thirds of Americans plan to hit the road on vacation this summer, a 17 percent increase from the number of travelers in spring. Compounding the issue in Florida, of TripAdvisor’s Top 10 destinations this summer, three are in the Sunshine State (Orlando, Key West, and Miami Beach).
Topping off the problems will be the shortage of tanker truck drivers the United States currently faces. According to National Tank Truck Carriers, roughly 20-25 percent remain out of service because there are not enough drivers. Many of those drivers left the business last year when the pandemic shut down travel across the country and gas demand dried up.
Combining all the factors together spell pain at the pump in the short-term with much of the uncertainty centered on how long the pipeline remains closed. According to CNN, a short shutdown of the pipeline will likely yield only a few cents per gallon rise in prices. However, if it doesn’t open soon, it could begin to cause logistical nightmares as areas struggle to deal with growing demand without the supply to help. Plus, any other major supply disruptions, such as another cyberattack or major hurricane could send prices soaring from the current levels.