Driver hopes potential gas shortage won't impact election
Posted November 1
HELENA, Ala. — A fatal explosion has shut down a pipeline supplying gasoline to millions of people across the Southeast, including North Carolina.
The explosion on Monday — the second accident and shutdown in two months — raised the specter of another round of gas shortages and price increases.
It happened when a dirt-moving track hoe struck the pipeline, ignited gasoline and sparked a blast, killing one worker and injuring five others, Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline said. Flames and thick black smoke continued to soar on Tuesday, and firefighters built an earthen berm to contain the burning fuel.
The explosion happened not far from where the Colonial pipeline sprung a leak and spilled 252,000 to 336,000 gallons of gasoline in September. After the leak, the company used one of the Colonial's two main lines to move gasoline through as it made repairs, but it still led to days of dry pumps and higher gas prices in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas while repairs were made.
The Colonial pipeline provides nearly 40 percent of the region's gasoline and usually runs at or near full capacity. Together the Colonial's two lines carry more than 2 million barrels of fuel a day.
By mid-day Tuesday, gas stations around the Triangle were already experiencing shortages.
"We are preparing for a similar situation like we had in September," said Gary Harris, the executive director of N.C. Petroleum and Convenience Marketers. "We are bracing for anything and everything. No one knows exactly what we are dealing with yet."
For many, the hassle of the shortage a few weeks ago is not far from their minds.
"Personally, I had to go to about four or five stores and finally I found one that was a reasonable price and I filled up my F-150 and thank God that was over," said Tony Watson.
Colonial Pipeline said it was able to restart the second of its two main lines, which carries diesel fuel and jet fuel. However, the company added that it anticipates that the main gasoline line will be closed the rest of this week.
"Hopefully (Colonial Pipeline) will be short on promise and quick on return," Harris said.
Nicole Tate said whatever happens in Alabama, she'll be glad she filled up.
"I actually texted my husband last night and said you better get gas tomorrow because this could become a big deal," she said.
The idea of having to stay home over the next few days to conserve gas doesn't bother Tate, whose concerns are more far reaching.
"I hope it doesn't impact the election. That's more of a concern than a panic. If people can't get gas and can't get where they need to be, that could impact the election all the way up and down," Tate said.
Gov. Pat McCrory urged drivers not to panic.
"We're walking a fine line in providing accurate information and making sure that information doesn't put an undue burden on the natural supply and demand issues of gas," he said.
Tuesday afternoon, McCrory said it would be another 24 to 36 hours before Colonial will be able to assess the damage.
Having both lines shut down for an extended period could have been "a worst-case scenario," said Patrick DeHaan, an analyst with price-tracking service GasBuddy.com.
After the September leak, Colonial said it made up some of the gasoline shortfall by sending gas through the line that usually carries diesel and jet fuel. The company has not said whether it intends to do so again.
"We would encourage drivers not to panic, so don't run to the gas station and start filling up every gas can you can," said AAA spokeswoman Tamra Johnson. "We really have to see how this plays out."
"The system is not designed for everyone to be buying gas in the Southeast at the same time," Harris said.
According to Attorney General Roy Cooper, North Carolina’s law against price gouging remains in effect.
“Consumers are our eyes and ears on the ground and we use their complaints to investigate possible price gouging,” Cooper said. “If you spot excessive prices during this time of crisis please let us know.”
McCrory said price hikes that occur should only be related to transportation costs. He was reviewing recommendations on restricting nonessential state travel Tuesday night, but many drivers are hoping the situation doesn't reach that point.
"I'm hoping it won't, but you can never tell so I'm just preparing for the worst," one driver said.
Colonial Pipeline, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, operates 5,599 miles of pipelines, transporting gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and other hazardous liquids daily in 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to company filings.
Eight or nine subcontractors were working on the pipeline when it exploded about 3 p.m. Monday, sheriff's Maj. Ken Burchfield told Al.com. The conditions of those hurt weren't immediately known.
"Colonial's top priorities are the health and safety of the work crew on site and protection of the public," the company said in a brief statement.