Pipe­line blast sparks wor­ries about gaso­line prices

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Jay Reeves and Jeff Martin

HELENA, ALA. >> A deadly ex­plo­sion that sparked a geyser of fire has shut down a vi­tal pipe­line sup­ply­ing gaso­line to mil­lions of peo­ple across the South­east, rais­ing fears of an­other round of gas short­ages and price in­creases af­ter the pipe­line’s sec­ond ac­ci­dent and shut­down in two months.

Con­tin­u­ing fires in the drought-stricken area of cen­tral Alabama ham­pered of­fi­cials’ ef­forts to fully assess the dam­age Tues­day af­ter­noon, and fire­fight­ers built an earthen berm to con­tain the burn­ing fuel. The ac­ci­dent hap­pened when a dirt-mov­ing track hoe struck the pipe­line, ig­nited gaso­line and sparked a blast Mon­day, killing one worker and in­jur­ing five oth­ers, Ge­or­gia-based Colo­nial Pipe­line said.

Four of the in­jured re­mained hos­pi­tal­ized, Colo­nial spokesman Bill Berry said Tues­day af­ter­noon in nearby Helena, Alabama. UAB Hos­pi­tal, where the in­jured were treated, de­clined to re­lease in­for­ma­tion on them, cit­ing re­quests by their fam­i­lies for pri­vacy.

An­other worker was treated for less-se­vere in­juries and re­leased from a hos­pi­tal, Berry said. The com­pany said it hoped to restart the pipe­line as early as the week­end. As much as 168,000 gal­lons of gaso­line could have burned, spilled, evap­o­rated or re­mained in the pipe­line, the com­pany said.

The ex­plo­sion hap­pened a few miles from where the Colo­nial pipe­line sprung a leak and spilled 252,000 to 336,000 gal­lons of gaso­line in Septem­ber. Af­ter the leak, the com­pany used one of Colo­nial’s two main lines to move gaso­line as it made re­pairs, but it still led to days of dry pumps and higher gas prices in Alabama, Ge­or­gia, Ten­nessee and the Caroli­nas while re­pairs were made. Con­trac­tors were work­ing on re­pairs re­lated to the Septem­ber leak when gaso­line ig­nited and spread fire to the pipe­line, the U.S. Pipe­line and Haz­ardous Ma­te­ri­als Safety Ad­min­is­tra­tion said Tues­day.

The nine-mem­ber crew was us­ing the track hoe to ex­ca­vate the pipe­line so that per­ma­nent re­pairs from the Septem­ber leak could be made, Colo­nial Pipe­line ex­ec­u­tive Ger­ald Beck said.

The pipe­line pro­vides nearly 40 per­cent of the re­gion’s gaso­line and usu­ally runs at or near full ca­pac­ity. To­gether Colo­nial’s two lines carry more than 2 mil­lion bar­rels of fuel a day.

By mid-day Tues­day, Colo­nial Pipe­line said it was able to restart the sec­ond of its two main lines, which car­ries diesel fuel and jet fuel.

The sever­ity of the gaso­line short­age will de­pend on how long the gaso­line pipe­line re­mains closed, AAA spokesman Mark Jenk­ins said.

“We would en­cour­age driv­ers not to panic, so don’t run to the gas sta­tion and start fill­ing up ev­ery gas can you can,” said AAA spokes­woman Tamra John­son.

Af­ter the Septem­ber leak, Colo­nial said it made up some of the gaso­line short­fall by send­ing gas through the line that usu­ally car­ries diesel and jet fuel. The com­pany has not said whether it will do so again.

Colo­nial Pipe­line, based in Al­pharetta, Ge­or­gia, op­er­ates 5,599 miles of pipe­lines, trans­port­ing gaso­line, jet fuel, home heat­ing oil and other haz­ardous liq­uids daily in 13 states and the District of Columbia, ac­cord­ing to com­pany fil­ings.

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