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Fatal Explosion in Gasoline Pipeline that Suffered Major Spill in September

A strategic interstate gasoline pipeline exploded in Alabama on Oct. 31, not far from the September spill site after an accidental strike by a track hoe, killing one and injuring five workers. Higher gas prices and long lines are anticipated.
November 3, 2016, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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The explosion in Shelby County caused the shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline that "begins in Houston, Texas and ends in Linden, New Jersey, traversing 11 other states along the way," according to the  company.

Credit: Colonial Pipeline Company

"The blast on Monday occurred several miles from its biggest gasoline spill in nearly two decades in September," reports Devika Krishna Kumar for Reuters. "That spill caused a 12-day interruption in the flow of about 1.3 million barrels per day of the fuel from the refining hub on the Gulf Coast to the Northeast."

The shutdown will restrict gasoline supplies to millions of Americans in the Southeast and possibly the Northeast. The Northeast could be less affected since it can get supplies via waterborne shippers.

The 5,500-mile (8,850-km) Colonial Pipeline is the largest U.S. refined products pipeline system and can carry more than 3 million barrels of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel between the U.S. Gulf Coast and the New York Harbor area.

According to a press release by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday, the contractor was performing work "to install a permanent repair required by the previous pipeline rupture on September 9, 2016."

The fire was still burning on Wednesday. Long lines and higher gas prices are anticipated in inland markets in the U.S. Southeast, which do not have access to ports, similar to what happened in September after the spill.

North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory took action to dispatch "fleets of gasoline tanker trucks from outside North Carolina [to make] deliveries across the state beginning today", according to his press release on Wednesday.  "[T]he state gets 70 percent of its gasoline from the Colonial Pipeline," notes Kumar. 

"Colonial said on Wednesday it still aimed to reopen the vital supply artery by Saturday, but added that the timetable might change as it gets updated information," report Kumar and Erwin Sebar on Wednesday. Price increases of 10 to 15 cents per gallon are anticipated according to GasBuddy.

Pipeline safety experts said while regulators will investigate the incident, the pipeline could resume service sooner than it did in September due to fewer uncertainties about the cause.

The pipeline is also a crucial conveyance of jet fuel for the East Coast market.

In an otherwise unrelated Reuters article on Colonial Pipeline, Kumar and Liz Hampton report that the company wants to change its jet fuel deliveries from a high-sulfur to a low-sulfur grade by 2018 which would result in higher fuel costs or airlines.

Colonial's plan is driven largely by waning demand for high-sulphur fuels. Railroad and marine transportation companies, for instance, are using less high-sulphur diesel fuel in response to environmental regulations.

Sulphur levels in jet fuel are not currently regulated, however, and the industry still uses high-sulphur fuels widely, in part because they have better lubricating qualities for airplane engines.

About two-thirds of East Coast jet fuel demand is currently met by pipeline flows from the Gulf Coast, according to analysts at Energy Aspects.

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Published on Tuesday, November 1, 2016 in Reuters
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