Colonial Pipeline Co. planned to restart the largest U.S. gasoline line late Wednesday, ending almost two weeks of curtailed shipments that have driven up pump prices and wiped out supplies at gasoline stations in the East and Southeast.
Once the pipeline restarts, many shipments will be rerouted to southern locations in need of supply, which could result in short-term storage issues, the company said in a notice to shippers. The company says it built a 152-metre (500-foot) long connector to bypass a stretch deemed hazardous by a federal agency following a Sept. 9 spill. Hydrostatic testing on the newly built line was completed early Wednesday.
It will still take several days for the fuel delivery supply chain to return to normal, Colonial said.
The company said it brought in pipe to stretch the distance of one and a half football fields as one of the emergency measures that were developed soon after the leak was discovered.
“From early on we started working several contingency plans just so we’d have options,” said Colonial’s spokesman Steve Baker in a telephone interview. “This one turned out to be the safest and most expeditious way to get the line restarted. We had the line there at the site ready to be assembled. It was all pre-positioned and ready to go.”
The full shutdown of Colonial’s 1.3 million-barrel-a-day gasoline pipeline choked off a key supply line to the East Coast from the Gulf Coast. Inventories in the East dropped 8.48 million barrels last week, the Energy Information Agency reported today, the biggest decline since the government began publishing weekly data in 1990. Meanwhile supplies in the Gulf Coast region soared to 83.7 million barrels.
“While one area has been starved, the other area is stranded,” Matt Smith, ClipperData LLC’s director of commodity research, said in a phone call from New York.
Gulf Coast gasoline exports were just slightly higher than normal last week, Mr. Smith said. ClipperData which tracks imports and exports of oil and refined products.
“We haven’t seen a huge uptick in exports in response to the stranded gasoline,” Mr. Smith said by phone.
Drivers in major cities like Atlanta, Nashville, Tennessee and Raleigh, N.C., experienced shortages at retail stations over the weekend as reports of the pipeline outage spread to worried gasoline consumers.
“It was a classic shortage situation,” Mike Williams, executive director of the Tennessee Petroleum Council, said by phone. “It’s going to take a little while to resupply all the stations.”
Alabama Governor Robert Bentley has praised Colonial for its response to the spill, saying the company treated the incident “very much like a natural disaster.”
“It’s amazing to see how quickly everybody has reacted,” Mr. Bentley said.
Federal and state mandates were lifted in response to the short squeeze that led motorists to line up at supplied stations. Rules on blending and hours that truckers can deliver fuel were waived, and one tanker that normally ships gasoline to Florida was rerouted to supply markets in Georgia and South Carolina. Mr. Bentley urged Alabama residents to stay calm amid the temporary shortage.
“I want people to first of all not panic,” he said. “I think that right now with the state of emergency we’re able to bring more fuel in if we need it by truck or barge.”Report Typo/Error