The decision comes as the Colonial Pipeline system, which is the primary fuel source for many Virginia retailers, reported a ransomware cyberattack that resulted in a temporary shutdown.
While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has issued a temporary fuel transportation waiver to increase the supply of gasoline, Northam's emergency declaration allows state agencies to issue their own waivers as required by the state. The executive order also provides increased flexibility and funding for state and local governments to ensure adequate fuel supply.
"This emergency declaration will help the Commonwealth prepare for any potential supply shortages and ensure Virginia motorists have access to fuel as we respond to this evolving situation," said Gov. Northam.
Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, halted operations last week after revealing a ransomware attack that it said had affected some of its systems. The pipeline plays a key role in transporting gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and other petroleum products from Texas all the way to the Northeast.
In response to the attack, Colonial Pipeline forced what it called a precautionary shutdown. U.S. officials said the ransomware used didn’t spread to the critical systems that control the pipeline’s operation, but the mere fact that it could have done so alarmed outside security experts.
The White House said in its own statement late Monday that it was monitoring supply shortages in parts of the Southeast and "are evaluating every action the administration can take to mitigate the impact as much as possible." It added that President Joe Biden had directed federal agencies to bring their resources to bear "to help alleviate shortages where they may occur."
The average gasoline price jumped six cents to $2.96 over the past week, and it was expected to continue climbing because of the pipeline closure, AAA said.
"If you don't IMMEDIATELY need gas, our experts recommend you don't fill up. A surge in demand only makes the situation worse," GasBuddy, an app and website offering real-time fuel prices, wrote on Twitter.