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Gasoline should begin flowing again Wednesday — through a temporary bypass on a critical pipeline — after a major leak in Alabama forced a shutdown that led to surging fuel prices and scattered gas shortages across the South, a company official said Tuesday.
The roughly 500-foot section of pipe serving as the bypass is now complete, but supply disruptions may continue for days, Colonial Pipeline spokesman Steve Baker told The Associated Press.
“When Line 1 restarts, it will take several days for the fuel delivery supply chain to return to normal,” Colonial said in a statement. “As such, some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions. Colonial continues to move as much gasoline, diesel and jet fuel as possible and will continue to do so until markets return to normal.”
AAA said in a news release that the pipeline fix won’t necessarily immediately yield results at the pump.
“Motorists may continue to see spotty outages this week, but once regular fuel delivery resumes, supplies should return to normal. AAA advises motorists to continue their normal driving and fueling routine,” said Garrett Townsend, Georgia public affairs director for AAA, in a news release. “We anticipate that pump prices will return to last week’s level fairly soon after fuel deliveries are back on schedule.”
Currently, Georgia’s gasoline average is $2.36, an increase of 27 cents from last week, according to the AAA news release. With the delayed fuel supplies, the state’s average is 15 cents above the national average. The state of emergency is still in effect protecting consumers from price gouging, AAA said.
The spill reduced fuel supplies in at least five states — Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina — despite executive orders by governors across the South to suspend limits on trucking hours, allowing drivers to stay on the road longer to bring fuel to gas stations.
The price climbed nearly 7 cents since Monday in more rural areas of Georgia.
Pump prices could vary widely among retailers, according to AAA.
“On the wholesale level, some independent retailers may be forced to pay as much as 30-45 cents more than their branded counterparts,” AAA said in its news release.
The 500-foot bypass was needed to move fuel around the leak of its main gasoline pipeline in Shelby County, Alabama. The leak, which spilled 6,000 barrels of gasoline into a detention pond, was detected Sept. 9.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement Tuesday that sampling teams are working collaboratively with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Cahaba Riverkeeper and Colonial Pipeline Company to collect water quality samples throughout impacted and potentially impacted areas at the response site.
The EPA said its water samples are consistent with the Colonial Pipeline Company water samples.
“Current sampling results indicate that the Peel Creek and the Cahaba River are currently not impacted,” the statement said.
The agency said it will continue to monitor water quality in Peel Creek and the Cahaba River.
The spill sent thousands of gallons of gasoline pouring into a retention pond at the site of an old mine, but no fuel made it into the nearby Cahaba River, in part because of locally dry weather.
“We averted a disaster this time,” said David Butler, an environmentalist with Cahaba Riverkeeper who has been monitoring the spill response at the site.