Company restarts gasoline pipeline after leak in Alabama

This aerial photo shows a pair of water retention ponds at the site of a pipeline leak, Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016, near Helena, Ala. The retention pond on the left is where the gasoline has been contained. A main gas line is expected to restart Wednesday with a temporary bypass after a leak and spill in Alabama led to surging fuel prices and some gas shortages across the South, a Colonial Pipeline official said Tuesday. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA (AP/WATE) — Colonial Pipeline restarted the gasoline pipeline in Alabama that had been shut down because of a major leak, which caused shortages and surging fuel prices across the South.

The pipeline was reopened Wednesday evening, company officials said in a statement. The pipeline leak was discovered Sept. 9 near Helena, Alabama, when state workers noticed a strong gasoline odor and sheen on a man-made retention pond.

The preliminary report does not identify the cause as the federal investigation continues. It wasn’t initially possible to pinpoint the leak, partly because highly flammable benzene and gasoline vapors prevented firefighters and inspectors from approaching the site for days.

Previous story: Colonial pipeline: Bypass fixed, gas could flow Wednesday

 The pipeline section that failed, built in 1963, runs from Mississippi to Atlanta.

The company has estimated that 252,000 to 336,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from the line. The shutdown of the pipeline led to dry pumps at gas stations in Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas despite executive orders by governors across the South to suspend limits on trucking hours. That allowed drivers to stay on the road longer to bring fuel to gas stations.

Gas prices rose nearly 27 cents over the past week to average $2.36 in Georgia. South Carolina’s regular gas rose nearly 4 cents from Monday to Tuesday and nearly 18 cents from a week ago. The Columbia, South Carolina, area saw prices rise about 6 cents since Monday.

It will take several days for fuel supplies to return to normal in markets served by the pipeline, the company said. More than 800 personnel were on site in the restart efforts in the past day.

“Motorists may continue to see spotty outages this week, but once regular fuel delivery resumes supplies should return to normal. AAA advises motorists to continue their normal driving and fueling routine,” said Stephanie Milani, Tennessee Public Affairs Director, AAA—The Auto Club Group. “We anticipate that pump prices will return to last week’s level fairly soon after fuel deliveries are back on schedule.”

Colonial Pipeline Co., based in Alpharetta, Georgia, was formed in the 1960s by oil companies to transport their product along the eastern seaboard. It now operates 5,599 miles of pipelines, transporting more than 100 million gallons daily of gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and other hazardous liquids in 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to company filings.

The pipe that failed is one of two Colonial lines connecting dozens of refineries in Texas and Louisiana with cities from Atlanta to New York. Usually running at full capacity, it provides nearly 40 percent of the Southeast and East Coast region’s gasoline.

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