A pipeline leak of at least 250,000 gallons of gasoline in a rural Alabama county is expected to affect fuel prices in the coming days across multiple southern states and the East Coast.
The leak already prompted two states of emergency Thursday stemming from fuel shortage concerns.
The oil leak was first discovered a week ago in rural Shelby County — just southeast of Birmingham, Alabama. It forced the pipeline company, Colonial Pipeline, to shut the line last Friday, hampering gasoline deliveries in various states including Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia.
In response to expected gasoline shortages, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley and Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued states of emergency, AL.com reported. As of Thursday evening, the leaking section of the pipeline remains unexcavated over safety concerns. Spills and gasoline leaks can contaminate soil, groundwater, surface water, and air. Gasoline fumes can also be toxic. Though the line has been shut off, gasoline still in the pipeline may be leaking.
The gasoline is being held in a mine water retention pond and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency staff at the site say residents are not in danger because the site is far from homes. The gasoline is also unlikely to breach the retention pond and enter nearby Cahaba River, Alabama’s longest free-flowing stream, the EPA told local media. The cause of the leak is unknown.
As the company and government agencies like the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration look into the spill, gas prices could climb as much as 20 cents in South Carolina, USA Today reported. In states like Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, the leak may cause a five to 15 cent price increase.
This comes as Colonial Pipeline, one of the largest-volume pipeline transporters of refined petroleum products in the world, provides gasoline for some 50 million people from Texas to New York.
The company has in the past settled with the federal government over alleged Clean Water Act violations related to oil spills that affected five states in the late 1990s. In fact, in 2003 Atlanta-based Colonial Pipeline agreed to pay $34 million, then the largest civil penalty a company has paid in EPA history, for spilling 1.4 million gallons of oil from a 5,500 mile pipeline system.
The government maintained that pipeline corrosion, mechanical damage, and operator error caused seven spills in the 1990s. Three of those spills came from alleged gross negligence.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration told the local Fox news affiliate that they will issue a corrective action order to Colonial Pipeline, instructing them what to do to get the pipeline back in operation. It’s unclear when the pipeline, which transports some 1.3 million barrels of gasoline and other petroleum products daily, will reopen.
The Colonial Pipeline leaks come as an anti-pipeline movement has been emboldened by Native American tribes now protesting the Dakota Access pipeline, a line that would cross four Midwestern states and transport more than half a million barrels of crude oil daily through the Dakotas, Iowa, and into a hub in Illinois.