A gasoline pipeline in rural Alabama exploded on Monday, killing one person, starting wildfires in the drought-ridden area, and potentially causing massive gas shortages along the East Coast in the days to come.
On Halloween, October 31, a team of contractors for Colonial Pipeline were working on a section of an underground gas pipeline in Shelby county. The men were working on a permanent fix for a leak that the pipeline suffered in early September, but one of the contractors struck the pipe with a track hoe. One person was killed in the massive blast that ensued, while several more were severely burned.
The explosion ignited two wildfires which burned 31 acres of land. The area is fairly rural, so only a few homes needed to be evacuated, and there have been no additional injuries.
What does this mean for gas prices?
It will be rough but certainly not apocalyptic. Gas prices along the Southeast Coast are expected to rise as officials had to shut down the pipeline that runs from Houston to New York. Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com, says people should avoid filling up their cars in a panic, since it will only make things worse.
It shouldn’t be bad for too long. Colonial Pipeline announced on Tuesday that they hope to have everything up and running again by Saturday, and CNBC says the sharp jumps in prices and gas futures has settled down accordingly.
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley declared a stare of emergency on Tuesday, which will extend the number of hours truck drivers hauling tanks of gasoline can be on the road in an attempt to help alleviate the damage.
What does this mean for the environment?
Things look okay. Cahaba Riverkeeper, an environmentalist group in the area, has been monitoring the disaster, and in a Facebook post says it is “unlikely any gas has reached the river as it is being burned by the fire.”
“No observable impacts have been noted on nearby waterways or drainage paths,” Colonial wrote in a statement. “Out of an abundance of caution, containment boom has been deployed at two different locations on the Cahaba River.”
How is Colonial going to fix the problem?
Colonial, which dealt with a pretty nasty leak on this same pipeline back in September, needs to wait until the fire stops burning before they can do anything, and it seems like that will take a couple days.
“Line 1, Colonial’s gasoline line, remains shut down,” the company said in a statement. “At this time, we anticipate Line 1 remaining down for the remainder of this week. Line 2, which transports diesel, jet fuel and other distillates, was restarted at approximately 11:00 PM CDT on October 31.”
It’s possible that Colonial could, temporarily, ship gasoline via Line 2 while waiting to repair Line 1. Colonial says it’s optimistic that things will be back to normal over the weekend, but warns that things could change.