Gas pipeline blast could increase pump prices in Southeast

HELENA, Ala. (AP) — For the second time in two months, an accident has shut down a pipeline supplying gasoline to millions of people across the Southeast, raising the specter of another round of gas shortages and price increases.

The disruption occurred when a dirt-moving track hoe struck the pipeline, ignited gasoline and caused an explosion Monday, killing one worker and injuring five others, Colonial Pipeline said. Flames and thick black smoke continued to soar on Tuesday, and firefighters built an earthen berm to contain the burning fuel.

A September leak that spilled 252,000 to 336,000 gallons of gasoline occurred not far from where the pipeline exploded. That leak led to days of dry pumps and higher gas prices in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas while repairs were made.

The cause of that leak still has not been determined, and the effects of the latest disruption weren’t immediately clear.

Colonial Pipeline, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, operates 5,599 miles of pipelines, transporting more than 100 million gallons daily of gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and other hazardous liquids in 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to company filings.

Plagued by a severe drought after weeks without rain, the section of the state where the explosion happened has been scarred by multiple wildfires in recent weeks, and crews worked to keep the blaze from spreading.

Coleen Vansant, a spokeswoman with the Alabama Forestry Commission, said crews built a 75-foot-long earthen dam to contain burning fuel. The Shelby County Sheriff’s Office said the blaze had been contained but it was unclear how long the fire may take to burn out.

Two wildfires caused by the explosion burned 31 acres of land, Vansant said.

“We’ll just hope and pray for the best,” Gov. Robert Bentley said in a statement.

Houses around the blast scene were evacuated, and sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Hartley said it wasn’t clear when people might be able to return home.

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.

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Jay Reeves reported from Helena, Alabama; Jeff Martin reported from Atlanta.

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