ROCKINGHAM — The Colonial Pipeline Company’s line 1 in Shelby County, Alabama, caught fire Monday after a crew working on a section of the pipeline struck it with a trackhoe, according to a response incident update issued by the company on Tuesday.
A little over a month ago, the same stretch of pipeline ruptured, spilling hundreds of thousands of gallons of gas and choking the supply line in southern states, including North Carolina. Many fueling stations in Richmond and surrounding counties ran dry waiting for the pipeline to be repaired. Gas prices soared, and now residents are concerned about a potential repeat.
Gene McLaurin of Swink-Quality Oil and Gas said he hopes lessons learned from the September pipeline rupture will mitigate some of the behaviors that led to shortages and price hikes before.
“I just got off a conference call with a major supplier,” McLaurin said in a statement to the Daily Journal. “The gasoline line on Colonial Pipeline is the one shut down by the explosion in Alabama. It is scheduled for restart on Saturday, which is good news. We should be able to meet our customer requirements in this part of the state, but I would urge everyone not to be panic buying. Supplies should return to normal by (the) middle of next week unless there are further delays in restarting the pipeline.”
By 5 p.m. Wednesday, a survey of gas prices and supply revealed the cost per gallon of regular fuel ranged from $2.16 to $2.21, with most locations falling toward the lower end. No gas stations were out of fuel, and people did not appear to be rushing to the pumps to fill up.
Locations selling regular fuel for $2.21 per gallon included the Shell station on U.S. 220 near Northam Road, the BP station on U.S. 74 near West Rockingham Elementary School, Shiv’s Corner Shell station at the intersection of County Home and Wiregrass roads and the Food Mart Shell on the corner of Fayetteville Road and Long Drive — but even these higher-priced locations are within $.05 of the lowest price elsewhere.
In September, Richmond County Emergency Services Director Donna Wright issued advice that applies any time there is the potential for fuel shortages.
“The first thing that needs to happen is for everyone not to panic,” she said. “Use common sense strategies to conserve fuel, such as canceling unnecessary travel and make one trip near places instead of several individual trips out.”
In September, officials said the shortages and dry pumps were caused by panic and the resulting over-consumption of fuel.
In an update issued Wednesday afternoon, Colonial said the fire that began Monday is still burning.
According to the update, “Local emergency responders have contained the fire, which has been allowed to burn under the supervision of local fire and emergency management personnel. The size of the fire has reduced significantly in the last 24 hours and does not present a hazard to response workers or the public.”
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory sent out a press release Wednesday outlining his office’s efforts to keep the latest pipeline problems from escalating.
“I am continuing to work with our emergency management team to closely monitor the situation in Alabama,” he said. “I will continue to take every measure that is needed to minimize the impact of this disruption on North Carolina.”
According to the press release, McCrory “signed an executive order to waive certain state requirements and had an additional waiver approved by the state agriculture department to allow tanker trucks from outside the state to move more gasoline supplies into North Carolina.”
“This waiver will allow for an increase in our gas supply that should not affect the quality or safety of fuel,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Gasoline products from northern states, which previously could not be sold in our state, can now be used at our pumps. What we are allowing is our winter fuel supply, which has different vapor pressure and normally is allowed for sale beginning in December, to be sold now.”
McLaurin said at this point, his company expects to be able to meet regional needs and continues to maintain stock for emergency services.
“Swink-Quality Oil supplies about 40 total (convenience) store locations in Richmond, Scotland and Robeson counties,” he explained. “All jobbers like us are on product allocation right now, which means we are able to buy a percentage of normal requirements at the terminals. Since we regularly pull product from five terminals in the Carolinas, we can shift deliveries around to some extent. For emergency and law enforcement personnel, we keep an inventory of product available in storage.”
Colonial said in a press release that one of nine contractors working at the site was killed in the explosion. Four others remain hospitalized.
“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,” Colonial said in the release.
North Carolina Republicans urged their supporters to vote early and avoid any gas-related disruptions on Election Day, but Georgia Governor Nathan Deal urged people to stick with normal fuel usage rather than stocking up and causing a spike in demand, the Associated Press reports.
Meanwhile, U.S. House Democrats asked for an investigation of Colonial Pipeline. Five ranking members of panels dealing with energy, transportation, infrastructure, pipelines and investigations released a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox seeking the review, according to the AP.
The House members cited the deadly explosion earlier this week and a large spill in September just a few miles away.
Since 2006, Colonial Pipeline has reported 178 spills and other incidents that released a combined 193,000 gallons of hazardous liquids and caused $39 million in property damage. Most were caused by problems with materials, welding or some other equipment failure, according to federal accident records reviewed by The Associated Press.
The company paid $381,000 in penalties for violating safety rules during the same period.
Colonial is expected to release more updates over the next several days as new information becomes available. Initially, the company hoped to have the pipeline back on by this weekend.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. Reach reporter Melonie McLaurin at 910-817-2673 and follow her on Twitter @meloniemclaurin.