AUSTIN (KXAN) — An extended shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline — shut down after falling victim to a ransomware attack on Sunday — could have ripple effects on the Texas economy, energy experts say.
Stretching 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey, the Colonial Pipeline is the largest in the United States and carries almost half of the East Coast’s fuel supply. While fuel prices and supplies held steady in Texas on Monday, a buildup in supply could rattle the state’s economy.
Patrick De Haan, oil analyst at GasBuddy, said oil producers may have to slow down or halt production in the coming days, which could hurt oil prices in the coming weeks.
“There could be some major bumps in the road until everything gets sorted out,” De Haan said, adding that gas prices could even drop in Texas over the next few days. “A lot of it depends on the movement of the wheels of the cog and now we have one of the larger wheels frozen in position.”
Any shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline will have a global impact on supply and prices, Michael Webber, a professor at the University of Texas Energy Institute, told KXAN. However, the threat posed by cyberattacks to critical infrastructure is equally concerning.
In February, inadequate preparation for extreme cold led to a near collapse of Texas’ energy grid. Webber said energy producers and policy makers in Texas have once again received a clear signal.
“We’re more vulnerable than we like to admit,” Webber said. “It’s a question of infrastructure and it’s time for us to invest with the level of importance that it requires.”
The average US utility faces 260 cyberattacks each week, according to data from Check Point Research.
Joel Hollenbeck, cybersecurity expert at Check Point Software Technologies, said the energy sector will always be a prime target for thieves.
“They’re targeting energy, in particular, because they know the stakes are high,” Hollenback said. “When the stakes are high, it often forces the organization to pay the game and pay the ransom.”