Company: Blast-damaged gasoline line should reopen Sunday

HELENA, Ala. – The gasoline pipeline that exploded and erupted in flames in Alabama this week should be back in service Sunday, the pipeline company said.

Colonial Pipeline Co. is constantly reassessing the timeline for a restart but that its current projection is Sunday afternoon, the company said in a statement issued late Thursday.

The large pipeline, which transports gasoline from the Gulf Coast to New York City, exploded Monday while a crew was making repairs related to a September gas spill.

Government officials and Colonial Pipeline have said a piece of excavation equipment hit the pipeline, causing the explosion, but further details haven’t been released.

Shelby County Deputy Coroner Lina Evans said Anthony Lee Willingham, 48, of Heflin, Alabama, died in the blast. Four other people were injured and remained hospitalized.

Colonial said it began excavating Wednesday night at the Shelby County site, located about 25 miles southwest of Birmingham. A small fire remaining at the site was put out overnight and work to remove remaining product from the pipeline began Friday morning, Colonial said.

Once the product removal is done, Colonial plans to remove the affected part of the line and then test and install a new segment.

An inspection showed a nearby pipeline that carries diesel, jet fuel and other products wasn’t damaged in the explosion, Colonial said Thursday, and testing showed no fuel in the Cahaba River, about a mile from the explosion, or a creek that feeds the river.

The National Transportation Safety Board announced Friday that it has opened an investigation into the pipeline rupture. A team of five investigators arrived at the site Thursday, and they expect to be there for several days to conduct interviews, document the site and surrounding area and collect physical evidence, the agency said in a news release.

The investigators also plan to travel to Colonial’s office in Alpharetta, Georgia, to speak to operations and engineering staff, review control room operations and collect data and documents.

Since the pipeline explosion Monday, gas prices have risen 7 cents in Georgia and 2 cents in Tennessee, Garrett Townsend with AAA in Georgia said in an emailed statement. Restarting the line this weekend should help ease concerns about gasoline supply in the Southeast, he said.

Occasional outages are possible at some unbranded gas stations, but as long as service is restored Sunday the problem shouldn’t be as bad as it was during the earlier problem with the pipeline in September, when prices surged 28 cents in Georgia and 17 cents in Tennessee, he said.