A day after a Colonial pipeline exploded and killed at least one person in Shelby County, Alabama, fears are mounting that the impact could be felt at the gas pump for weeks to come.
In addition to the death, at least five were injured Monday after a dirt-moving track hoe struck the pipeline, igniting gasoline and sparking the blast.
Four of the injured remained hospitalized as of Tuesday afternoon, Colonial spokesperson Bill Barry said during a news conference. He had no further updates on their conditions or the severity of their injuries.
The explosion forced residents of several homes to evacuate in Helena and took place just five miles west of a recent Colonial Pipeline gasoline leak, according to AL.com.
The fire prompted pipeline officials to shut down the pipeline that runs from Houston to New York for the second time in two months, according to a statement posted on Colonial’s website.
On Tuesday, Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley declared a state of emergency, which will ease restrictions on gasoline truck drivers and allow them to drive more hours, according to KSL.
The pipeline carrying gasoline could be down until at least Saturday, and the distillate line needs at least four days to be operational, a source with a Colonial shipper told Reuters. A second line carrying diesel, jet fuel and other distillates reopened Monday night, according to an update Tuesday on Colonial’s response website.
On Tuesday, gasoline futures rose as much as 13 percent, according to Reuters.
Colonial Pipeline fire kills 1 person, bringing threat of gas price spike
The Colonial Pipeline, which carries gasoline to the East Coast, has been closed after a deadly fire, bringing the threat of price hikes at the pump.
“I would urge motorists not to panic and say, let me fill up the tank now. They need to resist the urge to fill their tank because that’s going to make it that much more difficult for everyone in the days ahead,” Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst at GasBuddy.com told Reuters.
Continuing fires in the drought-stricken area have hampered officials’ efforts to fully assess the damage Tuesday.
Alabama state interim Forester Gary Cole told weather.com in an interview that the woods fire in the vicinity of the explosion has been contained, but has not been deemed ‘controlled’ as of Tuesday afternoon.
Cole said crews from the Alabama Forestry Commission were on scene all of yesterday and through the night, as the fire department and other rescue personnel dealt with equipment and non-forestry related issues near the explosion site.
Cole also said the commission put in a diversion with heavy equipment to block the run of liquid – presumably fuel – to divert it from contaminating streams and waterways.
“On the firefighting end of things, we were just trying to keep things from getting worse,” Cole said.
In total, Cole said the acreage burned as a result of the pipeline explosion was approximately 31 acres, but given the severe drought situation plaguing the state, it still made for a dangerous fire.
The northern two-thirds of the state of Alabama north of Birmingham is currently under a complete burn ban.
Cole said the state’s resources have nearly been exhausted, though, due to the widespread occurrence of brush and woods fires across the state.
He then said about a quarter of their workforce in north Alabama – north of Birmingham – are from the southern part of the state, which has been minimally impacted by drought fires.
“South Alabama is not far behind because the two most fire-prone areas are the northeast and southwest corners, the southwest just hasn’t fired up but it will,” he said.
For the second time in as many months, the shutdown is likely to cause gas prices to rise in the southeastern and Mid-Atlantic regions of the country, AAA told CNN on Tuesday.
“We were just beginning to recover from the gas price hikes we saw from the pipeline closure in September,” Garrett Townsend, an AAA spokesman in Georgia, told CNN. “The explosion will at least temporarily put a halt to the pump-price dip we’ve experienced over the past 30 days.”
Reuters reported that Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told reporters that a crew of nine was working on the pipeline system at the time of the explosion.
Colonial Pipeline issued a statement via its website after the explosion, saying, “Colonial has shut down its mainlines in Shelby County, Alabama, after reports of a fire on its right of way. Colonial personnel and emergency crews are responding.”
Reports initially stated that evacuations were being ordered, but city officials said there was no danger to residents; that may be subject to change if the subsequent fires spread rapidly.
Helena Mayor Mark Hall told KFVS-TV that there are high-pressure gas lines in the area of the explosion, and the blast occurred about a mile from any residential areas. First responders are using foam to try to contain the fire, the report added.
In a statement issued Monday night, Gov. Robert Bentley said his office was monitoring the situation.
“Pray for workers, rescue personnel,” Bentley said.