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Less than two months after the Colonial Pipeline in Shelby County, Alabama, spilled 336,000 gallons of gasoline, the same pipeline exploded, killing one and injuring at least five. The pipeline is shut once again, threatening gasoline supplies in the East and sending prices soaring.
The explosion occurred about one mile from the site of the previous leak. A crew of nine were conducting maintenance on the pipeline when a track hoe, similar to an excavator, struck Line 1. Gasoline exploded, killing one worker at the scene. Five others were transported to UAB Hospital in Birmingham. Several others, who were not in critical condition, were expected to be sent to area hospitals and many will need decontamination.
Fires from the explosion continue to burn as of this morning. Two wildfires set off by the accident burned 37 acres, and forestry crews were reported to have established a three-mile perimeter.
Colonial Pipeline shut down its two main lines, which feed gasoline, diesel and jet fuel to markets in the East. Colonial supplies about one-third of the 3.2 million barrels per day of gasoline consumed on the East Coast.
Gasoline prices immediately spiked as news spread, with futures prices up as much as 13 percent last night and more than 10 percent this morning. The Georgia chapter of the AAA said they expect to see fuel prices jump in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic.
Thick smoke around the area of the fire and explosion led to aircraft flight restrictions, which is due to be lifted at 10 a.m. Eastern time this morning.
The troubled pipeline company has had five spills in Alabama so far this year and 128 across its 5,500-mile system since 2010. This incident is the first known to have caused death or injury. By conservative estimates, Colonial has spilled at least 450,000 gallons of fuel into the environment since 2010.
As reported last month by EcoWatch, the number of significant pipeline incidents in the U.S. grew 26.8 percent from 2006 to 2015.
"Many other pipeline spills contaminated waterways. This troubling track record of death and contamination indicates that pipeline operators are not safely maintaining existing pipelines. They are putting profits over people. It is time to recognize pipelines are not a safe way to transport oil and gas. For the sake of our communities and clean water, we need to stop building pipelines."
Aerial photo of two of the three mine water retention ponds at the site of a pipeline leak that spilled an estimated 250,000 gallons of gasoline in Shelby County, Ala. The retention pond on the right is where the gasoline has been contained.Colonial Pipeline
The Sept. 9 break has leaked 6,000 barrels (approximately 250,000 gallons) of fuel into Shelby County, Alabama, the operator estimated, up from its original estimation of 1,000 barrels. The cause of the leak is currently unclear.
Colonial Pipeline, the largest refined products system in the nation, operates 5,500 miles of underground pipe and above ground storage tanks and pump stations, delivering more than 100 million gallons of refined petroleum products a day. Their customer base is an estimated 50 million Americans, between Houston and New York City.
CNN Money said that the disruption "threatens to drive up prices and leave service stations without fuel to sell."
In response to the spill, the Alpharetta, Georgia-based company closed its main gasoline line, Line 1, that runs from refineries in the Gulf Coast to the East Coast. About 500 employees and contractors are currently working to clean up the site and repair the impacted segment of pipe.
The Birmingham Business Journal reported that most of the spilled gasoline has been contained in a nearby mining retention pond as workers skim the pond to remove the gasoline. Underflow dams are also being constructed to prevent gasoline seepage into the nearby Cahaba River.
However, Billy McDanal, a landowner living near the river, spoke to AL.com over his concerns about the spill.
"That's our water," he said. "I guess in a way I am worried about the drinking water."
Colonial Pipeline initially said that the line would be running by this weekend but delays this week caused by gasoline vapors on site has slowed operations.
"Working in close consultation with local, state and federal officials, Colonial Pipeline continued around-the-clock response operations on location in Helena, Alabama, into the evening yesterday," the company announced on Sept. 15. "However, work activity was intermittent overnight due to unfavorable weather conditions that caused gasoline vapors to settle over the site. Operations are resuming as officials deem conditions safe. The top priority of the unified response effort remains the safety and protection of the public, responders, and the environment."
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency "is aware of the incident and has established a joint incident command with state and local authorities," the Business Journal noted.
Cahaba Riverkeeper David Butler told AL.com that the company has been "aggressive" in its response and is "genuinely concerned about protecting the river."
"Every concern we've had, they've addressed with really no pushback," Butler said. "As bad as any situation like this is, all you can really ask is that they be responsible and accountable and I certainly haven't found any fault in their response so far."
The burst is expected to affect prices at the pump. Colonial Pipeline said that parts of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina "will be the first markets to be impacted by any potential disruption in supply."
The company has restarted Line 2, its distillate line, due to the shutdown of Line 1.
"To minimize potential supply disruptions caused by the interruption to Line 1, Colonial Pipeline has executed a contingency plan to move gasoline on Line 2, which normally carries distillate such as diesel, jet fuel and home heating oil to points north," Colonial said.
Reuters reported that Friday's spill was the largest on the Colonial line in 20 years. In 1996, 22,800 barrels of fuel oil leaked in South Carolina.