Out of gas: U.S. shortages blamed on Alabama pipeline rupture
QuikTrip gas station in Duluth, Georgia, on Sept. 19, 2016. (Alex Sanz / AP)
Jeff Martin, The Associated Press
Published Monday, September 19, 2016 12:12PM EDT
Last Updated Monday, September 19, 2016 5:12PM EDT
ATLANTA -- Gas prices spiked and drivers found "out of service" bags covering pumps as the gas shortage in the South rolled into the work week, raising fears that the scattered disruptions could become more widespread.
The shortage is blamed on a pipeline rupture and leak of at least 252,000 gallons (954,000 litres) of gas in Alabama. The pipeline company has two main lines and said Monday that it is shipping "significant volumes" on the second of the two lines to limit the impact of the interruption on the other line.
Colonial Pipeline said it was working "around the clock" to repair the break and supplies have either been delivered or are on their way to locations in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Still, some motorists discovered bone-dry pumps.
Lindsey Paluka, 28, stopped at a Shell gas station in the East Atlanta neighbourhood only to find a gas pump handle covered by a black garbage bag.
"I'm definitely on empty, so I'm going to have to figure something out," she said.
Alpharetta, Georgia-based Colonial has acknowledged that between 252,000 gallons (954,000 litres) and 336,000 gallons (1,272,000 litres) of gasoline leaked from a pipeline near Helena, Alabama, since the spill was first detected Sept. 9. It's unclear when the spill actually began.
According to a preliminary report, it wasn't possible to immediately pinpoint the leak, partly because highly flammable benzene and gasoline vapours hung in the air and prevented firefighters, company officials and anyone else from being near the site for more than three days.
State workers discovered the leak when they noticed a strong gasoline odour and sheen on a pond, along with dead vegetation nearby, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in the report.
The report does not identify the cause of the leak. The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is investigating the leak in a section of the pipeline constructed in 1963, it said.
Colonial Pipeline said over the weekend that it was beginning construction of a temporary pipeline that will bypass a leaking section of its main gasoline pipeline in Shelby County, Alabama. Its statement Monday did not say when that temporary pipeline is expected to be running.
Near the site of the rupture, trucks rumbled along a rural road. Retiree Lawrence Barnett, who lives a few miles from the pipeline, felt the impact of the spill Monday when he drove to Fox Valley Mart to buy regular gas for a piece of farm equipment and found the nozzles covered in black and yellow plastic bags.
Several miles away, police guarded the entrance to a Colonial Pipeline terminal beside Interstate 65. Tanker trucks like those used to haul fuel were parked around the property, and a steady stream of trucks came and went through the gate.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley planned to tour the spill response centre Monday afternoon.
In Georgia, AAA reported the price of regular gas jumped more than 5 cents from Sunday's average of $2.26 to just over $2.31. The average price a week ago was around $2.10.
"Oh yeah, I've noticed that the prices have just gone up, I mean, through the roof!" said Tom Wargo at a gas station northeast of Atlanta.
Wargo runs a non-profit organization that supplies pet food to people in need, and spends much of his time on the road. He just returned from a road trip to Louisiana, where he helped people after the floods there, he said.
"I tried getting gas yesterday and a lot of the stations had no gas at all, except diesel," Wargo said Monday.
AAA Carolinas said the average price for a gallon in North Carolina was $2.16 -- up from $2.05 last week. In South Carolina, a gallon was selling for an average of $2.04. That's an increase of 13 cents from last week.
In the Chattanooga, Tennessee, area, the price of regular gas jumped 6 cents in one day, AAA reported.
"We certainly expect the gas prices to increase, certainly while this line is under repair and not at full capacity," AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend said Monday.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order Monday aimed at preventing price gouging.
"There have been recent reports that wholesale and retail gas prices have substantially increased in some markets," he said.
Governors across the South issued executive orders last week to suspend limitations on trucking hours, allowing drivers to stay on the road longer to bring gas stations fuel.
Associated Press Writers Kate Brumback and Kathleen Foody contributed to this report