The Colonial Pipeline – the US oil pipe network infamous for being the victim of a massive hack last year – has fallen on more hard times after it was found the pipe has suffered a leak in Loudon, Tennessee.
On the evening of July 4, the Colonial Pipeline Company responded to reports of a strange smell near their Sugarlimb Trap Facility and discovered an oil spill within the facility due to a valve failure.
A portion of the pipeline was shut down and repaired. On July 11, they discovered more oil from the initial release just outside of the Sugarlimb Trap Facility’s fence.
The company estimates that around 591 barrels (24,822 gallons) of oil were released from the broken pipe, but they say no one was harmed and no ecological damage has been reported. They’re continuing to keep a close eye on the situation until it's fully contained.
“As a proactive measure, Colonial has installed several underflow dams and deployed multiple booms in Hubbard Branch. With an overabundance of caution, Colonial is also monitoring the Tennessee River as part of the response process,” Meredith Stone, a spokesperson from the Colonial Pipeline Company, told WVLT News.
“Surface and well water sampling is underway and will continue after storm events. These are precautionary measures, and we continue to monitor the situation closely as we work with local and state resources.”
The Colonial Pipeline is the largest oil pipeline system in the US, transporting 3 million barrels of fuel per day between Texas and New York along 8,850 kilometers (5,500 miles) of pipes.
It gained notoriety in May 2021 when it was subject to a ransomware cyberattack. Hackers broke into the pipeline’s computer system and compromised their billing system, putting the company into a position where they wouldn't know how much to charge customers for fuel they received. The pipeline was forced to shut down for a number of days, disrupting supplies for several days and sparking fuel shortages, as well as panic buying.
The company eventually caved in and paid the hackers, a Russian group called DarkSide, the healthy sum of $4.4 million worth of bitcoin. Not bad for a day’s work.
Cracking into the computer system of this vital piece of infrastructure was hardly a difficult feat, however. A tech audit of the Colonial Pipeline Company before the cyberattack found “atrocious” information management practices and dangerously weak security systems.
“We found glaring deficiencies and big problems,” Robert F. Smallwood, who runs the firm behind the audit, told the Associated Press. “I mean an eighth-grader could have hacked into that system.”
Correction 15/07/2022: The article initially suggested that two leaks had occurred, one on July 4 and another on July 11. In fact, the product found on July 11 is attributed to the July 4 release. We have edited the article since publication to reflect this fact.