Main gas line to restart Wednesday after company fixes leak

Posted September 20, 2016 9:31 a.m. EDT
Updated September 20, 2016 10:47 p.m. EDT

— The pipeline company working to repair a leak that led to gas shortages and higher prices for drivers across the South says its bypass repair is complete, and it expects to restart its main gasoline line Wednesday.

The shortage is blamed on a rupture in the Colonial Pipeline, which pumps gas through 5,500 miles of pipe from Texas to New Jersey, supplying much of the East Coast.

Company spokesman Steve Baker told The Associated Press that testing is being done on the 500-foot bypass repair, but it will take a few days for the fuel supply chain to fully recover after the line restarts.

Drivers around the Triangle on Monday reported visiting multiple stations to find either long lines or no gas at all. At least one other station began rationing customers to $10 of gas at a time.

The rupture has cut North Carolina's gas supply by about two-thirds in recent days, Gov. Pat McCrory said, and the shortage was most acute in the western part of the state.

McCrory activated the state's Emergency Operations Center to coordinate with counties regarding fuel needs. He previously signed executive orders to waive restrictions on trucks delivering fuel and to outlaw price gouging – about 1,000 people have filed price gouging complaints with the Consumer Protection Division of the state Attorney General's Office.

Panicky drivers compounded the problem, McCrory said, and he urged people not to run to a gas station to top off their tanks in the next few days so the supply chain could stabilize.

"We're sometimes our own worst enemy in responding to a crisis like this," he said.

The state's top priority is ensuring first responders have all the fuel they need, McCrory said. Officials with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said Tuesday they are monitoring the situation, but they said the patrol has ample fuel reserves to ensure daily operations aren't affected.

McCrory said the state has been spending $50,000 a day from its reserve fund to ensure gas is getting where it needs to be.

Gary Harris, executive director of the North Carolina Petroleum Marketers Association, which represents 6,600 gas stations statewide, said gas moves slowly through pipelines, so even with Colonial's fix, it will be several days before gas supplies return to normal in North Carolina.

"Things are really tight right now," Harris said.

Alpharetta, Ga.-based Colonial has acknowledged that between 252,000 and 336,000 gallons of gasoline leaked from a pipeline near Helena, Ala., since the spill was first detected Sept. 9. It's unclear when the spill actually began. The U.S. Department of Transportation is investigating.

"We continue to be in regular communication with our customers, who are also working on their own individual contingency plans to minimize supply disruptions. This includes trucking and barging fuel from other markets and refineries," the company said.