US says fuel supplies should be ‘back to normal’ by the weekend as key pipeline restarts after cyberattack

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Signs reading “out of gas” cover screens on pumps at a gas station on May 12, 2021 near Four Oaks, North Carolina. Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images

  • The Colonial Pipeline began resuming service Wednesday evening.
  • With that, the US Secretary of Energy said “things will be back to normal” by the end of the weekend.
  • The pipeline, which transports 45% of the fuel used by the East Coast, shut down last week following a cyberattack.
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The Colonial Pipeline is back up and running with full operations expected by this weekend, which should bring gas shortages in part sparked by panic buying to an end.

The Colonial Pipeline, the top US fuel pipeline, restarted Wednesday evening, and reported “product delivery has commenced in a majority of the markets we service.”

The successful restart “should mean things will return to normal by the end of the weekend,” US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said on Twitter Thursday.

“Following this restart, it will take several days for the product delivery supply chain to return to normal,” the company said Wednesday evening. “Some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions during the start-up period.”

The pipeline shutdown operations last week after Russian ransomware group DarkSide hacked the company’s systems and demanded money.

The company took the pipeline – which runs from Texas to the New York -area and supplies 45% of the East Coast’s fuel -offline following the attack. A private cybersecurity firm hired by Colonial and the federal government are probing the incident.

Colonial has “made substantial progress in safely restarting our pipeline system,” the company said Thursday in a statement. “By mid-day today, we project that each market we service will be receiving product from our system.”

A few remaining segments of the line will begin operating at 12 p.m. ET, the company said.

Amid the shutdown, some people resorted to panic-buying fuel. Long lines stretched around gas stations, more than 1,000 stations in the US ran dry, and the price of gas surged. Most of the shortages remained on the east coast, especially in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, a GasBuddy analyst reported.

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The Biden administration is working with Colonial Pipeline to restore service ‘quickly’ after a ransomware attack on the country’s top fuel pipeline operator

A 2016 file photo shows an overhead view of Colonial Pipeline in Helena, Alaska.
In this Sept. 20, 2016 file photo vehicles are seen near Colonial Pipeline in Helena, Alaska.

  • The Biden administration is working with Colonial Pipeline to get service restored, a top official said.
  • It’s “all hands on deck” following the ransomware attack on Colonial, said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.
  • Colonial Pipeline transports approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Operations at the largest US refined fuel pipeline, Colonial Pipeline, remained shut down on Sunday following a ransomware attack, but the Biden administration is working with the company to quickly get operations back to normal, a top official said.

Colonial said Saturday it had halted operations on its 5,500 miles of pipeline from Texas to the East Coast following a cyber attack and was working to restore service as quickly as possible. Colonial’s pipelines transport approximately 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that President Biden had been briefed on the incident.

“It’s an all hands on deck effort right now,” Raimondo said. “We are working closely with the company, state and local officials to, you know, make sure that they get back up to normal operations as quickly as possible and there aren’t disruptions in supply.”

Colonial Pipeline is the country’s largest refined products pipeline operator, transporting more than 100 million gallons of gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, and home heating oil, daily. It also serves seven airports, including Atlanta’s Hartsfield Jackson Airport.

Colonial has not said when it expects to restore service but a prolonged shutdown could roil fuel markets, disrupt supply to the East Coast and cause the price of gasoline to jump just as coronavirus pandemic restrictions lift and Americans begin summer travel.

Cybersecurity experts have long warned that critical parts of the national infrastructure could be vulnerable to a cyber attack. The Biden administration last month rolled out an initiative to ramp up the cybersecurity of the nation’s power grid.

Raimondo said addressing the threat of cyber attacks on businesses and infrastructure is a “top priority for the administration.”

“Unfortunately, these sorts of attacks are becoming more frequent,” she said. “They’re here to stay and we have to work in partnership with businesses to secure- secure networks, to defend ourselves against these attacks.”

Colonial said the attack on its system involved ransomware but it did not give further details or suggest who might have carried it out. It said it has hired a third-party cybersecurity firm.

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Airline stocks could climb 70% as the hard-hit sector recovers from the pandemic, Jefferies says

Flying on American Airlines during pandemic
Flying on American Airlines during the pandemic.

  • Airline stocks could advance by another 70% after their 30% rise so far in 2021, said analysts at Jefferies.
  • American Airlines was upgraded to a hold rating from underperform as part of a look at the sector.
  • Commodity inflation is something to watch as a pressure point for earnings but currently works as a “tailwind”.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Airline stocks look set to fly up by another 70% as route changes, relatively lower oil prices and other structural considerations help guide the sector’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis, says Jefferies.

The financial services firm outlined its view on Tuesday in a note examining the implications of rising multiples after a collective 30% gain in shares of airlines in its coverage group. Airline shares have risen in recent months as part of a broader ramp-up in business activity spurred by COVID-19 vaccinations and fiscal stimulus that includes $1,400 checks now being sent to most Americans.

“The consensus view around air traffic is that 2023 looks very similar to 2019, with domestic fully recovered and international largely returning to pre-COVID levels,” the financial services firm wrote.

The S&P 500 Airline Index rose nearly 3% during Tuesday’s advancing about 31% this year. The US Global Jets ETF picked up 2.5% during the daily session and has picked up roughly 21% so far in 2021.

Considering factors including productivity improvements alongside a partial offset from net debt changes, “airlines currently trade at a 4.3 times multiple on the bull case scenario versus a historical average of 6X, implying ~70% potential upside across the group,” said Jefferies equity analysts led by Sheila Kahyaoglu.

Jefferies raised its price target on Delta Air Lines to $50 from $40, its target on Southwest Airlines to $70 from $55, and its target on United Airlines to $60 from $55.

Jefferies said commodity inflation is a “watch item” as a potential headwind to 2023 earnings for airlines, but that it’s currently a “tailwind” compared with 2019, before the pandemic emerged. “Despite the recent rise, the futures price for Brent delivery in Dec 2023 remains at ~$56, below Dec 2019 prices of ~$60” per barrel.

Jefferies’ examination included a rating upgrade for American Airlines stock to hold from underperform. It said American is best positioned to pass costs to consumers as the sole operator on 37% of its routes compared with 29% at Delta and 21% at United.

Meanwhile, American’s partnerships with JetBlue Airways and Alaska Air include a strategic exit from some less profitable routes in the Northeast and Northwest and the changes have the potential to drive total revenue up by 2.3% to $46.8 billion in 2023 from 2019.

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Oil tumbles 8% as uneven vaccine rollout threatens demand prospects

oil texas
Workers extracting oil from oil wells in the Permian Basin in Midland, Texas.

  • Brent and West Texas Intermediate oil futures each fell by 8% during Thursday’s session.
  • Rising COVID-19 cases in Europe are hurting demand prospects for oil.
  • A rise in the US dollar was also putting pressure on the commodity.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Oil prices were sharply knocked down Thursday, hurt in part by a dimmer outlook from Europe as the region battles rising COVID-19 cases counts and a sluggish rollout of vaccinations to curb the spread of the disease.

Brent oil, the international benchmark, extended its run of losses into a fifth session and West Texas Intermediate crude was in its sixth consecutive session in the red.

“Europe is struggling with COVID. Their pickup in crude demand is likely to lag the Americas and it’s probably going to really threaten a lot of hopes that we were going to see a big pickup this summer,” Ed Moya, senior market analyst at Oanda, told Insider on Thursday.

Brent oil fell 8% to $62.52 barrel and WTI fell by 8.3% to $59.25 per barrel.

Several European countries were recording a rise in coronavirus infections, prompting France on Thursday to declare new lockdown measures in Paris while Italy this week imposed movement restrictions.

Oil prices found no relief Thursday from the European Medicines Agency’s ruling that AstraZeneca‘s coronavirus vaccine developed with Oxford University is safe to use. The review came after several European countries suspended the vaccine’s use following reports of blood clots in some people who had been injected with the formula.

Meanwhile, oil was under pressure in the wake of the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting on Wednesday during which it upgraded its growth projections for the US economy.

“You have a stronger dollar which has emerged from the surge in Treasury yields, which is also weighing on commodities as well,” said Moya. The US Dollar Index rose 0.5% to 91.87.

The 10-year Treasury note yield note yield surged past 1.7% on Thursday, marking a fresh 14-month high and the 30-year yield rose to 2.5% for the first time since August 2019. Higher yields tend to make the greenback more attractive to holders of other currencies.

While the outlook for European oil demand looks weakened by the COVID crisis, there are still expectations for stronger oil demand from the US with vaccinations on the rise, said Moya.

“It’s going to be a very busy summer travel season and I think jet fuel demand will also bounce back. We haven’t seen airlines really increase their flights…but once we start to see that, that’s going to be very positive for the demand forecast.”

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This hydrogen paste has a similar range to that of gasoline and could revolutionize the transport industry

powerpaste hydrogen fuel
The development of POWERPASTE, that may revolutionize the hydrogen industry.

As the devastating potential impacts of climate change become increasingly obvious, many are turning away from fossil fuels to power their vehicles and looking for alternatives.

The answer may lie in the hydrogen industry, which is projected to generate $2.5 trillion in revenue by 2050 and to provide hard competition to Elon Musk’s Tesla-produced electric cars.

A team at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Germany has now developed a hydrogen paste, POWERPASTE, that may be easier to use especially in smaller vehicles.

TRL 5 demonstrator powerpaste hydrogen
POWERPASTE is created from a magnesium base.

Hydrogen-powered motorbikes and scooters

In 2018, the French startup Pragma Industries began selling hydrogen-powered bikes.

However, they were too expensive for the consumer market at over $9,000 per bike and $36,000 for a charging station.

POWERPASTE might be able to solve that problem, with the substance created from magnesium base and stored in the vehicle in the form of a cartridge.

All drivers need to do to refuel is swap out the old cartridge for a new one and fill a tank with water.

“POWERPASTE stores hydrogen in a chemical form at room temperature and atmospheric pressure to be then released on demand,” institute research associate Dr. Marcus Vogt said in a press release.

As the paste only begins to decompose at temperatures of around 480 degrees Fahrenheit, researchers said drivers didn’t need to worry about leaving their vehicles out in the hot sun.

ZeroAvia's world's first hydrogen-electric passenger plane flight
Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates have already backed the startup ZeroAvia.

Fuel for the future

“POWERPASTE… has a huge energy storage density,” said Vogt. “It is substantially higher than that of a 700 bar high-pressure tank. And compared to batteries, it has ten times the energy storage density.”

The researchers also pointed out that the range of the paste can be compared with gasoline and may even exceed it.

They suggested that this could make it a viable option for cars or in portable fuel cells on camping trips, and could significantly extend the possibilities of drone usage.

The hydrogen industry looks set to grow significantly in the coming years.

Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates have already backed the startup ZeroAvia, which is developing hydrogen-powered flights.

In 2016, Germany invested $265 million in hydrogen cars and with the rise of viable alternatives, other countries may now follow suit.

The institute is now building a pilot plant at the Fraunhofer Project Center for Energy Storage and Systems in the German city of Braunschweig.

Scheduled to open later this year, they estimate an annual production capacity of four tonnes of POWERPASTE.

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