Damaged gas line to stay closed rest of week

A major gasoline pipeline serving metro Atlanta will be out of service the rest of this week, the operator said Tuesday, after it was shut down Monday when a work accident near Birmingham, Ala., led to an explosion and fire.

But a second pipeline carrying other fuels such as diesel and jet fuel restarted late Monday, operator Colonial Pipeline said in an updated statement.

“Line 1, Colonial’s gasoline line, remains shut down. At this time, we anticipate Line 1 remaining down for the remainder of this week. Line 2, which transports diesel, jet fuel and other distillates, was restarted at approximately 11:00 PM CDT,” the company said.

A spokeswoman said the company hopes to restart Line 1 by the end of Saturday. That could reduce the chances of gas shortages in metro Atlanta, although Colonial’s statement did not address the effect on deliveries to retailers in the meantime.

The explosion and fire Monday killed one employee of a subcontractor and injured several others.

“Our top priorities continue to be ensuring the safety of responders, and supporting the personnel and their families who have been impacted by this event,” Alpharetta-based Colonial’s statement said. “To that end, we are working with our contractor partner and have deployed a family and community support team, which includes grief counselors.

“Our deepest condolences go out to the family and loved ones of the deceased, and our thoughts and prayers remain with the four individuals who were injured and who continue to receive care at area hospitals.”

The gas line is the same one closed by a leak in early September.

The September incident led to spiking prices in metro Atlanta, along with shortages that left some stations without gasoline.

AJC Investigation: Colonial’s history of fuel leaks

Industry analyst Patrick DeHaan of Gas Buddy said earlier Tuesday that the latest situation is again serious, but he urged drivers not to fill up unnecessarily.

“A run on pumps could lead [to] significant shortage,” he said on Twitter.

Gregg Laskoski, another Gas Buddy analyst, said wholesale prices rose 13 cents a gallon Tuesday morning in reaction to the latest pipeline shutdown. Average retail prices in metro Atlanta rose 3 cents by late Tuesday afternoon, according to the company’s website.

Colonial’s two lines run past Birmingham and toward metro Atlanta and the eastern seaboard.

A third regional gasoline pipeline, operated by a different Alpharetta-based company, wasn’t involved in Monday’s accident.

For drivers, word of new pipeline problem just weeks after September’s episode created a Catch-22: A panicked rush to buy gasoline could hasten a shortage, spiking prices and the chance of not being able to fill up. But doing the responsible thing comes with the risk that everyone else will panic and leave you dry if a shortage develops.

“Should fuel demand remain normal, we should not see any shortage of fuel. We ask that motorists continue to fill their tanks as they normally would,” the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores said in a statement earlier Tuesday.

The association said Georgia retailers “began immediately working to secure fuel from other resources” after getting word of Monday’s fire in Alabama. It noted that the regional pipeline not operated by Colonial continues to flow and that fuel also comes by barge into the ports of Savannah and Jacksonville for distribution in Georgia.

Business was normal at the Avondale Food Mart/Chevron in Avondale Estates late Tuesday morning. Camille Wolf, of Decatur, filled up because her gas tank was almost empty.

But she added that she would have filled the tank even if she had enough gas, because of the news from Alabama.

“It made it an issue,” she said. During last month’s gas shortage, she had to hunt for gas at several stations.

Inside, store operator Amirali Nayani loaded soft drinks in the cooler.

“I ordered gas for tomorrow,” said Nayani. But he hadn’t heard about the pipeline explosion, and hadn’t noticed a jump in traffic.

The quick rise in wholesale prices means consumers will likely feel an effect at least in their wallets.

Garrett Townsend, a spokesman for AAA, said the explosion came just as gas prices were beginning to recover from the closure in September, when the pipeline was out of service for almost two weeks.

“The explosion will at least temporarily put a halt to the pump-price dip we’ve experienced over the past 30 days,” said Townsend.

The average price of regular gas Tuesday afternoon in metro Atlanta was $2.22 a gallon, according to Gas Buddy, vs. $2.29 a month ago and $2.06 a year ago.

A Colonial spokesman told Al.com that the repair work going on Monday was “related in an indirect way” to the September issue, which involved a leak that had developed over time. A bypass was built around that section, and Monday’s work involved preparation for a permanent replacement pipeline in the leak site area, the spokesman told the website.

Colonial planned a decade ago to build a third fuel pipeline that would have increased capacity between its busiest shipping points, from the Gulf Coast refineries to Atlanta.

But as the AJC previously reported, the 500-mile pipeline was never built because its shipping customers were unwilling to commit to the $1 billion project, which would have increased capacity by about 30 percent.

Even if it had been built, it’s unclear a third line would help in a situation like Monday’s, as it would have been located in the same right-of-way with the other two lines.

Staff writers Russell Grantham and Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report.