Alabama governor praises pipeline company's response to leak

By Jeff Martin, Associated Press

 

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said gas prices in parts of the state rose 20 cents over the weekend after a pipeline leak, but he didn't consider that price gouging.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley speaks to the media during a news conference, Monday, Sept. 19, 2016, in Hoover, Ala. Bentley issued a state of emergency in Alabama after a pipeline spill near Helena, Ala. Gas prices spiked and drivers found "out of service" bags covering pumps as the gas shortage in the South rolled into the work week, raising fears that the disruptions could become more widespread. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

ATLANTA (AP) — Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said gas prices in parts of the state rose 20 cents over the weekend after a pipeline leak, but he didn't consider that price gouging.

"It changes overnight sometimes that much," he said.

Bentley toured Colonial Pipeline's emergency response center, in a luxury resort hotel about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the pipeline breach, and spent much of a news conference Monday praising the company's response.

A disaster drill was held coincidentally last year near the scene of the spill, he said, and that helped the company plan and execute a response that included about 700 people so far.

Colonial said it was working "around the clock" to repair the break and supplies have been delivered or are on their way to locations in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, and North Carolina.

Colonial said Monday evening in a statement that it expects the temporary pipeline to be running by the end of the week but gave no specific day.

On Tuesday, gas prices continued to climb in several southern states, the auto club AAA reported.

In Georgia, Tuesday's average price for regular gas rose about 5 cents since Monday, to an average $2.36 statewide — up nearly 27 cents over the past week. Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia also saw prices climb since Monday, AAA reported Tuesday.

"Oh, yeah, I've noticed that the prices have just gone up — I mean, through the roof!" Tom Wargo said at a gas station northeast of Atlanta.

Wargo runs a nonprofit organization that supplies pet food to people in need and spends much of his time on the road. He just returned from a road trip to Louisiana, where he helped people after the floods there, he said.

"I tried getting gas yesterday and a lot of the stations had no gas at all, except diesel," Wargo said Monday.

"We certainly expect the gas prices to increase, certainly while this line is under repair and not at full capacity," AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend said Monday.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order Monday aimed at preventing price gouging.

"There have been recent reports that wholesale and retail gas prices have substantially increased in some markets," he said.

The shortage is blamed on a pipeline rupture and leak of at least 252,000 gallons (954,000 liters) of gas in Alabama. The pipeline company has two main lines and said Monday that it is shipping "significant volumes" on the second of the two lines to limit the effect of the interruption on the other line.

Still, some motorists discovered bone-dry pumps.

Lindsey Paluka, 28, stopped at a Shell gas station in the East Atlanta neighborhood only to find a gas pump handle covered by a black garbage bag.

"I'm definitely on empty, so I'm going to have to figure something out," she said.

Alpharetta, Georgia-based Colonial has acknowledged that between 252,000 gallons (954,000 liters) and 336,000 gallons (1,272,000 liters) of gasoline leaked from a pipeline near Helena, Alabama, since the spill was first detected Sept. 9. It's unclear when the spill actually began.

According to a preliminary report, it wasn't possible to immediately pinpoint the leak, partly because highly flammable benzene and gasoline vapors hung in the air and prevented firefighters, company officials and anyone else from being near the site for more than three days.

State workers discovered the leak when they noticed a strong gasoline odor and sheen on a man-made retention pond, along with dead vegetation nearby, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in the report.

The report does not identify the cause of the leak. The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is investigating the leak in a section of the pipeline constructed in 1963, it said.

Governors across the South issued executive orders last week to suspend limitations on trucking hours, allowing drivers to stay on the road longer to bring fuel to gas stations.

 

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