Gas-Pipeline Leak in Ala. Could Cause Gas Shortage and Price Increases

The governors of Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia have declared states of emergency to keep gas flowing in the area. 

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A gasoline pipeline that runs from Houston to New York ruptured 30 miles south of Birmingham, Ala., leading to a major leak.

Colonial Pipeline, of Alpharetta, Ga., which operates the pipeline, says that 519 workers are cleaning up the spillage, now estimated to involve as much as 336,000 gallons of fuel.

The spill happened just 500 feet from a mining company’s retention pond, and all of the fuel flowed into it, avoiding Alabama’s Mobile Bay and sparing the endangered species living in the nearby Cahaba River system from danger. Colonial is working with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Cahaba Riverkeeper to ensure that the gasoline doesn’t reach the river.

The threat of fuel shortages in the eastern U.S. prompted three governors to declare a state of emergency. Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina, Gov. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Gov. Robert J. Bentley of Alabama have all issued emergency declarations in order to keep fuel flowing in the Southeastern states. These declarations will loosen restrictions on fuel trucks, enabling them to act in place of the pipeline and keep the fuel supply flowing.

“The uninterrupted supply of fuel oil, diesel oil and gasoline is essential for the health, safety, or economic well-being of persons or property in North Carolina, and any interruption of those fuels threatens the public welfare,” McCrory wrote (pdf).

Although gas prices in Atlanta had already risen Friday, Deal’s declaration (pdf) strictly addressed fuel drivers, who will now be able to drive for longer hours than normally allowed by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Bentley addressed price gouging, writing, “I hereby place all persons on notice that it is unlawful for any person within the State of Alabama to impose unconscionable prices for the sale of any commodity during the period of a declared State of Emergency.”

The spill is in an isolated area south of Birmingham and is accessible only by dirt roads, which have been closed off to nonemergency vehicles.

The EPA, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Pelham (Ala.) Fire Department, the Helena (Ala.) Fire Department and other local agencies are on site to help with the cleanup.

There is still gas in the pipeline, and there is concern that it may still be leaking. The pipeline has been shut off, and Colonial expects that it will be restarted next week. In the meantime, the company has repurposed a second pipeline, one that runs parallel to the burst line and normally carries diesel. That line has now shifted to carrying gasoline.

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