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Charlotte gas prices expected to spike again after second pipeline explosion

Light from a light pole shows a house near a plume of smoke from a Colonial Pipeline explosion, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Helena, Ala. Colonial Pipeline said in a statement that it has shut down its main pipeline in Alabama after the explosion in a rural part of the state outside Birmingham.
Light from a light pole shows a house near a plume of smoke from a Colonial Pipeline explosion, Monday, Oct. 31, 2016, in Helena, Ala. Colonial Pipeline said in a statement that it has shut down its main pipeline in Alabama after the explosion in a rural part of the state outside Birmingham. AP

Gas prices in the Charlotte area are expected to spike again after a major pipeline in the Southeast suffered a disruption for the second time in two months.

A pipeline that supplies gas to millions in the Carolinas and other southeastern states was shut down Monday after a portion in Alabama was struck by a dirt-moving track hoe, causing an explosion and killing one worker, Colonial Pipeline said.

AAA Carolinas said in a statement Tuesday that when the same pipeline leaked in September, gas prices in the Carolinas rose by 20-30 cents in some areas.

“If September’s shutdown was any indicator of what we should expect, prices are definitely going to spike at the pump,” said Tiffany Wright, public relations manager for AAA Carolinas.

Speaking at the North Carolina Council of State Tuesday, Gov. Pat McCrory said the state is in ongoing communication with Colonial Pipeline about the possible impact, which could be “tremendous.”

The disruption hadn’t immediately had an impact in the Charlotte metro yet Tuesday, though.

In this week’s explosion, a contract crew working miles from the site of the Sept. 9 spill ran into the pipeline with a track hoe, igniting gasoline and causing a fire, Colonial said in a statement. One person died at the scene and five others were transported to Birmingham-area hospitals for treatment.

The explosion happened not far from where the Colonial pipeline previously sprung a leak and spilled 252,000 to 336,000 gallons of gasoline. After the leak, the company used one of Colonial’s two main lines to move gasoline through as it made repairs, but it still led to days of dry pumps and higher gas prices in Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas while repairs were made.

The Colonial pipeline provides nearly 40 percent of the region’s gasoline and usually runs at or near full capacity. Together the Colonial’s two lines carry more than 2 million barrels of fuel a day.

By mid-day Tuesday, Colonial Pipeline said it was able to restart the second of its two main lines, which carries diesel fuel and jet fuel. However, the company added that it anticipates that the main gasoline line will be closed the rest of this week.

As of early Tuesday morning, the average price of a gallon of unleaded gas in the Charlotte metro was three cents lower than it was a week ago, according to auto group AAA. Average gas prices in North and South Carolina were three and four cents cheaper, respectively, though prices remain well above year-ago levels.

In a statement, AAA said refineries in the Southeast are still recovering from fall maintenance and price spikes following the Colonial Pipeline’s September explosion, as well as Hurricane Matthew.

After the leak in September, the Southeast had to rely on long-distance truck deliveries from as far as Chicago, as well as waterborne fuel deliveries, to help meet demand, AAA said.

In Charlotte, drivers encountered prices spiked and “out of service” bags covering gas pumps throughout the city.

Colonial Pipeline, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, operates 5,599 miles of pipelines, transporting gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and other hazardous liquids daily in 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to company filings.

Plagued by a severe drought after weeks without rain, the section of Alabama where the explosion happened has been scarred by multiple wildfires in recent weeks, and crews worked to keep the blaze from spreading.

From 3,000 feet in the air, a flame could be seen still burning in a haze of smoke Tuesday, a day after a pipeline explosion left a charred scene in an Alabama forest.

Two wildfires caused by the explosion burned 31 acres of land, said Coleen Vansant, a spokeswoman with the Alabama Forestry Commission.

Houses around the blast scene were evacuated, and sheriff’s Capt. Jeff Hartley said it wasn’t clear when people might be able to return home.

“We’ll just hope and pray for the best,” Gov. Robert Bentley said Monday. On Tuesday, the governor declared a state of emergency to temporarily ease limits on the hours that truckers carrying gasoline may drive. Other governors took similar action following the September leak, which allowed truckers to transport more gasoline by highways, making up for some of the shortage.

Eight or nine subcontractors were working on the pipeline when it exploded about 3 p.m. Monday, sheriff’s Maj. Ken Burchfield told Al.com. The conditions of those hurt weren’t immediately known.

“Colonial’s top priorities are the health and safety of the work crew on site and protection of the public,” the company said in a brief statement.

The AP, Bloomberg News and WBTV contributed.

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