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Fuel frenzy: After Colonial pipeline attack, maneuvers to avert shortages

By lunchtime Tuesday many Sanford area gas stations were out of fuel.

For those that had fuel, long lines with waits up to 45 minutes were the norm. All along S. Horner Boulevard and along U.S. 1, small traffic jams marked the locations of stations with fuel.

Meanwhile, as federal officials worked to help bring the Colonial Pipeline back online, area gas station attendants couldn’t keep up with the phone calls asking if they had fuel.

As the shutdown of the pipeline entered its fifth day, federal and state officials worked with companies to stave off potential fuel shortages.

The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit by a cyberattack on Friday. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Ransomware attacks are typically carried out by criminal hackers who scramble data to paralyze their target’s networks. Large payments are demanded to decrypt it.

There were reports of gas stations in the Southeast running out of gasoline, according to Gasbuddy.com, which tracks outages and prices. In Virginia, 7.5% of the state’s 3,880 gas stations reported running out of fuel. In North Carolina, 5.4% of 5,372 stations were out, the company said.

By Tuesday, more than 1,000 gas stations had run out of gasoline, shortages primarily driven by panic buying.

“A lot of that is because they’re selling three or four times as much gasoline that they normally sell in a given day, because people do panic,” said Tom Kloza, a veteran analyst with S&P’s Oil Price Information Service. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

The states most dependent on the pipeline include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas, he said.

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm told reporters Tuesday that a large part of the pipeline resumed operations manually late Monday, and Colonial will be able restart most of its operations by the end of the week. Motorists may still feel a crunch because it takes a few days to ramp up operations, she said.

“We know that we have gasoline, we just have to get it to the right places,” Granholm said.

Granholm urged people not to hoard gasoline saying there is no need, and she warned gas station owners as well.

“We will have no tolerance for price gauging,” Granholm said.

Here in North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper declared a statewide state of emergency Monday and by midday Tuesday, Attorney General Josh Stein warned that there would be severe consequences to those who price gouged.

“The hackers who breached Colonial Pipeline’s systems have made it harder for hardworking North Carolinians to go about their lives, but I will not allow businesses to take advantage of this incident to charge excessive prices,” Stein said. “North Carolina’s price gouging law is in effect — please let my office know if businesses or people might be trying to profit off this situation so we can hold them accountable.”

North Carolina’s law against price gouging, or charging too much in times of a crisis, goes into effect when the governor declares a state of emergency. In some cases, businesses and industries that are heavily impacted by the incident causing the state of emergency have a reasonable need to increase prices in order to resupply, but they should disclose these increases and allow people to make informed purchasing decisions. Businesses cannot, however, unreasonably raise the price of goods or services to profit from a state of emergency.

Consumers can report potential price gouging by calling 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or by filing a complaint at https://ncdoj.gov/file-a-complaint/price-gouging/. Stein said he is prepared to take action against any person or business engaging in price gouging.

The White House said this week that it is monitoring supply in parts of the Southeast and that President Joe Biden had directed federal agencies to bring their resources to bear.

There is action at the state level as well. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp suspended state taxes on motor fuels through Saturday. Georgia collects a gasoline tax of 28.7 cents per gallon and a diesel tax of 32.2 cents per gallon.

“It will probably help level the price at the pump off for a little while,” Kemp told reporters at DeKalb-Peachtree Airport in Chamblee, an Atlanta suburb.

However, Kemp also urged people not to hoard gasoline, saying he expected the situation to be resolved soon.

“You don’t need to go out and fill up every 5-gallon can you’ve got,” Kemp said.

Scattered gas stations in metro Atlanta were out of fuel Monday and Tuesday, but most were operating normally. In Georgia, nearly 4% of 6,368 stations had run out of fuel, Gasbuddy.com said.

In Florida, just 2% of the gas stations had run out of fuel. Nevertheless, consumers in some areas faced long lines.

Dave Gussak drove from one station to the next in Tallahassee, Florida in search of gas without success, he said. After putting a number of miles on his vehicle, he said he saw a line nearly a mile long at the gas pumps outside of a Costco store.

Gussak eventually passed a station with gas on the way to Florida State University where he works. “This is insane,” said Gussak.

Irena Yanava’s tank was about half full, but she wasn’t about to take chances as she sat in her car at the same Tallahassee gas station. She had heard stories from friends about their search for gas. “I was just driving by and I saw that there was a line here of cars, and I know that I’ll be needing it soon, so why not?” she said.

Citgo’s Fairfax, Virginia terminal ran out of premium grade reformulated gasoline and its Richmond, Virginia terminal was out of unleaded regular, according to the American Automobile Association, citing a shipper bulletin,

The Colonial Pipeline carries jet fuel as well, and planes at the busy suburban airport where Kemp spoke Tuesday were being fueled and taking off.

American Airlines rerouted two long-haul flights from Charlotte due to possible fuel shortages, but said overall impact has been minimal. Passengers flying to Honolulu will have to change planes in Dallas, and those heading to London will stop in Boston to refuel.

To help alleviate potential shortages, the Environmental Protection Agency waved some fuel quality requirements on an emergency basis in parts of Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

The cyberattack on the Colonial Pipeline struck as the Biden administration, still grappling with its response to massive breaches by Russia of federal agencies and private corporations, works on an executive order intended to strengthen cybersecurity defenses. The Justice Department, meanwhile, has formed a ransomware task force designed for such situations. The Energy Department on April 20 announced a 100-day initiative focused on protecting energy infrastructure from cyber threats. Similar actions are planned for other critical industries, such as water and natural gas.

The challenge facing the government and the private sector is immense.

The FBI assigned blame Monday in the Colonial attack to DarkSide, a criminal syndicate whose ransomware was used to snarl pipeline operations. The group’s members are Russian speakers, and the syndicate’s malware is coded not to attack networks using Russian-language keyboards. Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.

Asked Monday whether Russia was involved, Biden said, “I’m going to be meeting with President (Vladimir) Putin, and so far there is no evidence based on, from our intelligence people, that Russia is involved, although there is evidence that the actors, ransomware, is in Russia.”

“They have some responsibility to deal with this,” he said.

The Kremlin on Tuesday rejected any suggestion it was involved in the attack.

“Russia didn’t have anything to do with hacking attacks that had taken place earlier,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “We categorically don’t accept any accusations against us in this regard.”

Preparing for hurricane season

As North Carolina’s hurricane season kicks off June 1, officials are warning people to prepare now for extreme weather.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs through Nov. 30, is expected to have an above average number of storms this year, according to researchers from N.C. State University.

The season will see 15-18 named storms forming in the Atlantic basin, which includes the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, a news release stated. That’s above the long-term average of 11 named storms, according to Lian Xie, professor of marine, earth and atmospheric sciences.

Of the predicted storms, seven to nine may grow strong enough to become hurricanes, also exceeding the historical average of six. Two or three of those storms may become major hurricanes, according to Xie.

The Gulf of Mexico will also have an active season, “though one more in line with historical averages,” the release stated.

“Xie’s data indicate the likelihood of three to five named storms forming in the region, with two to four of them becoming hurricanes, and one becoming a major hurricane,” according to the report. “Historic averages for the Gulf are three named storms and one hurricane.”

The number of hurricanes has increased over the past 30 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The agency recently recalculated the number of storms expected in the “average” Atlantic hurricane season based on data from 1991-2020.

The average over that 30-year period was 14 named storms, seven hurricanes and three major hurricanes. That’s an increase from the 1981-2010 average, which was 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

One reason for the increase could be an overall improvement in NOAA’s detection equipment. Global warming could also play a role, the release stated.

“These updated averages better reflect our collective experience of the past 10 years, which included some very active hurricane seasons,” said hurricane forecaster Matt Rosencrans said in a news release.

“NOAA scientists have evaluated the impacts of climate change on tropical cyclones and determined that it can influence storm intensity. Further research is needed to better understand and attribute the impacts of anthropogenic forcings and natural variability on tropical storm activity.”

N.C. Insurance Commissioner Mike Causey reminded North Carolinians this week that they should prepare now for possible extreme weather this summer. Staying safe during a storm is often a matter of advance planning.

A top priority should also be to “make sure you have the appropriate insurance coverage for dangerous storms and flooding that could cause serious damage to your home or your property,” Causey said in a release.

People should know that:

• Most homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies do not cover damage from floods, although most mobile homeowners’ and comprehensive auto policies do.

• A landlord’s insurance policy likely won’t cover damage to a renter’s personal property.

• The National Flood Insurance Program takes 30 days to take effect. Waiting to take out a flood policy once a storm or hurricane is in motion will be too late.

• Just because there’s no longer a mortgage on a home does not nullify the need for homeowners’ insurance.

• Since it takes 30 days for a flood policy to take effect, now is the time to contact your agent to see if you have the proper coverage.

Moms know best: Entrepreneur pays tribute to mothers

There’s a new line of clothing being marketed by a Sanford entrepreneur who says his inspiration is his mother and all moms.

Christopher Mark Headen Jr. has been busy lately working on the MOKNOBE clothing line. According to Headen, MOKNOBE is an acronym for Moms Know Best. The company’s line of shirts will soon be seen at events and pop-up sales around the area.

“The idea came from my mom — she raised me — and it was hard on her,” he said.

Headen says he’s faced difficulties that made it tough for his mother, and he made bad decisions in his earlier life.

“I was into selling drugs,” he said. “I didn’t realize until it was too late to go into the Army or something else. I lost friends and girlfriends — my momma was always trying to tell me to leave them alone. I went to prison and they left my side, but my momma was always there. This is why I came up with the idea of giving her something back. I feel like other moms are going through the same thing taking care of their children. I wanted to just make a statement.”

The idea came from Headen’s entrepreneurial interests.

“I was always doing research,” he said. “ ‘Shark Tank’ was one of my favorite shows. I was watching that. I plan on making this a worldwide brand.”

The MOKNOBE brand stands for many things, according to Headen. Among the things he said are important are hope, joy and warriors. He said the brand is also an advocate to mothers of all colors.

“Our initial target customers are mothers,” he continued. “Secondary target customers are maternity women. Our third target customers are their children.”

Though items currently are limited to T-shirts in a variety of colors, more items will be coming soon.

“We plan on expanding,” Headen said.”We know moms love sports, casual and sleepwear, too,” he said. “Also a brick and mortar store in our hometown would be awesome. I’m just starting in Sanford. I want to expand and give other people jobs.”

Headen also plans to make donations to local charities from the proceeds and has even spoken with several. He also hopes to sell the products online, but for now, he’ll be around the area at various locations. The shirts sell for $20 for sizes small through XL and $25 for XXL or larger.

“You don’t even have to buy a shirt,” he said. “We can talk about motherhood, we can give each other business ideas. It’s not just about selling shirts — it’s about awareness that there are moms out here trying to have personal success — they’re trying to make their child be what they want to be — that’s not just a job, it’s a career.”

He also encouraged people to follow their dreams when it comes to business.

“Everybody always says the thing they didn’t do was to take action,” he concluded. “This is taking action — this is what happens when you take action.”

Revived ambulance advisory board meets

The Lee County Ambulance Advisory Committee has been revived as the county’s franchise, contract and lease the parent company of Central Carolina Hospital expired in November.

The committee, originally created in 1981, met Tuesday in the McSwain Agricultural Extension Center and learned what its role will be in screening applicants interested in obtaining the ambulance service franchise.

The members include Shane Seagroves, director of Lee County’s Emergency Services; Deputy Chief Ken Cotten of the Sanford Fire Department; Dr. Russell Harrell, Central Carolina Hospital’s medical director; and the emergency services coordinators of Harnett and Moore counties.

In January, Whitney Parrish, the county’s attorney, recommended reviving the committee with the franchise expiration approaching and the anticipation of multiple operations vying for the service contract.

Since 1997, the county has renewed the franchise agreement with CCH, which is owned by Duke LifePoint, Parrish said in a memo.

The hospital also leases the EMS building at 1218 Central Drive from the county, the memo said.

“The provider the county grants the EMS franchise ordinance to will most likely also want to lease the EMS building,” the memo says.

The revived committee will be responsible for interviews with applicants and have a 30-day investigation period, Parrish said. The committee will have 30 days to look into the applicant’s record before making a recommendation to the county commissioners. Two public hearings will be scheduled by the commissioners before any action is taken, Parrish said.

The application deadline is today, she said.

The committee will hold hearings with franchise applicants for two weeks in June.

The committee is to meet July 12 to make a final recommendation to commissioners.

County's solid waste fee likely to increase

The Lee County manager is proposing a fee increase in an effort to shore up dwindling reserve funds in the Solid Waste Division budget.

John Crumpton also wants to implement a sticker program to prevent the improper use of convenience centers and reduce the amount of trash collected at each one.

He is recommending an increase in the solid waste fee to $131, an increase of $23.50 from the current $107.50. The fee is included in the tax bills for those living in unincorporated areas of the county.

“After reviewing the current financial position of the solid waste fund and the budget request from General Services, the financial position of this fund is not in good standing,” Crumpton wrote in a memo to the county commissioners.

The increased expenses are the result of solid waste disposal; transporting trash from the convenience center located in the county; and an increase in processing fees for recycling for the past two years.

All have put a strain on the division’s reserve funds, making it necessary to find money through the county’s General Services budget, he said.

“The commissioners need to take action to stop the use of fund balance and make the fund self-sustaining through the fees we collect,” Crumpton said in the memo.

Another concern is the use of the convenience centers by Sanford and out-of-county residents who don’t pay fees, according to Crumpton.

“We continue to have issues with city residents and non-county residents using the convenience centers,” he said.

The volume has forced the county to close the centers on Sundays.

Crumpton is suggesting issuance of stickers to identify county residents when they come to the centers. Employees working at the sites would not allow those without a sticker to use the facility.

If no action is taken, he said, the expenses will exceed revenues by about $277,000 per year.

The other proposed options include closing the centers an additional day each week; eliminating the reduced fee charged to those who contract with a private service for trash pickup; or doing nothing.