In its second shutdown in as many months, the Colonial Pipeline in Alabama was severed on Monday, after an explosion killed one worker and injured five others. The incident shut down a vital gasoline and diesel artery between Texas and the East Coast, and prices shot up 8 percent on Tuesday, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. This put gasoline at its highest price in eight years at one point on Tuesday. The pipelines supplies roughly one third of all of the gasoline consumed on the East Coast – 2.5 million barrels of fuel a day.
Lt. Russell Bedsole of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office clarified the cause, saying “This appears to be an accident. There is no suspicion of terrorist activity.”
The fire started at about 2 PM local time, in Shelby County, when contract workers using a trackhoe breached the pipe while performing maintenance. The machinery ignited gasoline inside the pipeline, causing an explosion and a fire that burned late into Monday night. Injured workers, some of whom were in critical condition, were transported to hospitals in Birmingham, roughly 30 miles north. The explosion occurred in a remote area, and emergency workers cleared out the few local residents Monday afternoon.
The spike in gasoline prices subsided early Tuesday afternoon, following an announcement by Colonial that the diesel pipeline had resumed operation at midnight, and that the gasoline line is expected to restart on Saturday.
Colonial also said it would work with shippers to transport gasoline using the diesel line, which also sometimes supplies jet fuel. Airports that rely on the pipeline for jet fuel said they do not foresee shortages as a result of the incident, including Washington Dulles International Airport, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and Nashville International Airport.
In September, an 8,000 barrel leak in the pipeline caused a shortage of fuel throughout the region, spiking gasoline prices. That incident occurred just a few miles from Monday’s explosion. It caused a partial closure of the line for 12 days.
Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy, commented, saying “Just having one line shut down caused a circus. Imagine having both.”
The East Coast has become increasingly dependent on fuel from the Gulf Coast in recent years, as a number of refineries there have been shut down.