Driver hopes potential gas shortage won't impact election

Posted November 1, 2016

— 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

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 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.


Please with your account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all
  • Erika Phipps Nov 2, 2016
    user avatar

    That's a terrible headline isn't it? Taking a complex problem and pinning its importance on one small part of the story. I'm not diminishing any one driver's concerns, but is that actually what the story's about? Nope.

  • Matt Clinton Nov 2, 2016
    user avatar

    I'll walk to the polling place to vote for Trump if I have to. I wonder how many Hillary supporters will don their high heels or sandals to do the same.

  • Jim Dunn Nov 2, 2016
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    Kind of hard to hide an explosion that can be heard 15 miles away and black smoke from a fire that can be seen 25 miles away.

    They did keep the previous shutdown quiet for almost 2 weeks prior to it getting out. But that was just a leak and clean up.

  • Mike Wells Nov 1, 2016
    user avatar

    What can happen next to NC? Gas shortage, Floods, Gas shortage. Have we gone back to the 70's? Only one way to get gas in and out of Cities. I am not looking at a Presidential candidate to figure this out. Where are our elected officials of NC? Enjoying their "free" gas and our gas prices are raised.

  • Norman Lewis Nov 1, 2016
    user avatar

    Way to go Associated Press "reporters". Try to fan the flames of panic and/or prepare the public for another round of unjustified price increases. You would think there was no other way to get gasoline into NC than this pipeline and the public should just be quiet and pay up for whatever gas they do get. What a racket. A previous poster was correct, this will NOT distract from Hillary and her straight up lies and general deceptions. The FBI has been neutered due to the risk of her becoming President and facing her wrath if they did the right thing and recommended prosecution. One question though, when did the police department (FBI) recommend pursuit of a criminal case?, isn't that the responsibility of the Attorney General? Another example of the subversion of Justice that is a hallmark of the Democratic Party.

  • Kenneth Jones Nov 1, 2016
    user avatar

    I was waiting for the political angle to come in. Something else the Dems can scream about. "It was done to suppress the vote". Don't that sound about right? This is the media creating stories. Instead of telling the news, they have to make it.

  • Cameron Horn Nov 1, 2016
    user avatar

    Relax…. this isn’t going to distract from crooked Hillary … nice try

  • Jason Kolman Nov 1, 2016
    user avatar

    "Do not panic" - LOL, too late. Better to say "Everyone Panic!" because people around here always seem to do the opposite of what they are told.

  • Kenneth Jones Nov 1, 2016
    user avatar

    If you don't want people to panic, don't tell them to anticipate a shortage. Seriously.

  • Larry Price Nov 1, 2016
    user avatar

    CNN reported that Colonial is hoping to have the pipeline repaired by the weekend.