Gasoline pipeline restarts after explosion, fire in Alabama

The largest U.S. gasoline pipeline restarted Sunday morning, six days after an explosion and fire in Alabama during planned work on the line.

Crews removed the affected portion of the pipeline from the blast on Saturday and installed a new segment. The company said Line 1 resumed service at 5:45 a.m. local time. The Oct. 31 explosion that killed one worker and injured several also shut a sister pipeline that hauls diesel and jet fuel for several hours. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board opened an investigation into the accident Thursday.

“Subsequent to today’s successful restart, it is expected to take several days for the fuel delivery supply chain to return to normal,” Colonial said in an online statement.

Colonial anticipated fuel products will begin arriving in Linden, New Jersey, where the system ends, within about three days of the restart because there is still fuel in the pipeline, according to a map posted online. Fuel products delivered to Charlotte and Atlanta, an artery that supplies markets in Georgia and Tennessee, were estimated to arrive in about one day.

Colonial’s shutdown was tied to repair work on portions of the 1.3 million-barrel-a-day line that sprung a leak Sept. 9. That leak put the pipeline out of service for 12 days and caused fuel shortages in Southeastern states. In response to the latest outage, Governors in Alabama, North Carolina and Georgia temporarily lifted trucking guidelines to prevent spikes in fuel prices at the pump.

‘Vital Importance’

“Considering the pipeline’s vital importance to regional supply, the outage was not long enough in duration to make its way into the wholesale gasoline market, let alone the retail market,” Trilby Lundberg, president of Lundberg Survey, said in a telephone interview. The Camarillo, California-based company gathers information from about 2,500 filling stations nationwide.

Gasoline prices at U.S. pumps rose less than 1 cent to $2.26 a gallon in the previous two weeks, according to the Nov. 4 Lundberg Survey. Southern markets reported declines, including Charleston, South Carolina, and Birmingham, Alabama, where gasoline fell almost 4 cents, according to the survey.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency stepped in Thursday to oversee certain portions of the Clean Air Act until Nov. 23 to ensure supply. The waiver allows densely populated cities to use conventional fuel instead of the reformulated gasoline that’s regulated to control emissions. The waiver will not be applied to deliveries made against the RBOB futures contract traded on the New York Mercantile Exchange, CME Group said in an online notice.

“This means that North Carolina, as well as our neighboring states, have averted a serious situation regarding our gas supply,” North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said in a statement. Effective Wednesday, McCrory is rescinding his executive order suspending non-essential travel by state employees.