A state of emergency was declared in Alabama and Georgia last Thursday after a pipeline leak released up to 338,000 gallons of gasoline, causing alarm with regard to possible fuel shortages in the eastern US as a result. The major pipeline connects refineries in Houston, Texas, with the southeast and east coast. The company was first alerted to the problem on September 9th, when a mining inspector noticed a gasoline odor. This pipeline is essential to the fuel supply in the region, normally transporting 1.3 million barrels of gasoline daily, as far north and east as New York Harbor. It has been shut down since Friday. The operator, Colonial Pipeline, issued the following statement on Thursday:

“Based on current projections and consultations with industry partners, parts of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina will be the first markets to be impacted by any potential disruption in supply. Colonial has briefed officials in these states and will continue to provide timely information to the public so that they can plan accordingly.”

On the environmental side, EPA workers on site in Shelby County have said residents in the area are not in any danger. Fortuitously, the gasoline leaked into a nearby retention pond, which so far has prevented it from flowing into the nearby Cahaba River system. The Cahaba is among the most biologically diverse habitats in the country, home to an unusually high number of already endangered species.

The fact that the leak occurred so close to a retention pond was a fortunate coincidence. So far, the pond has apparently prevented the gas from flowing into the either the Cahaba River system, or to Mobile Bay on the gulf coast, which would have caused even more widespread destruction.

EPA spokesman James Pinkney said “You really couldn’t have planned it any better than this. There are no homes nearby, and it’s fully contained. It’s so fortunate.” Pinkney added that temporary dams have been installed which will prevent any leaks from the retention pond from reaching the Cahaba watershed. Myra Crawford, executive director of Cahaba Riverkeeper, a group which monitors the watershed, outlined how much worse the impact could have been.

“Along the way it would have impacted all the wildlife living in it and drinking from it, and plants like the Cahaba lilies – this is one of the only remaining sites where they are found. It could have been so destructive.”

So far, only a few raccoons and a rabbit have been found dead near the retention pond. Crawford remarked “It’s absolutely minimal. A miracle.”

So far, most of the public concern regarding the spill has revolved around fuel supplies for the south and the eastern seaboard. This is what has led governors in Georgia, Alabama, and most recently North Carolina, to declare states of emergency. The state of emergency will loosen restrictions on alternative ways to transport fuel, and will prevent severe price hikes in these states.

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