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Alabama oil pipeline explosion kills one, injures five

01 November 2016

On October 31, an explosion after a breach in a pipeline in Shelby County, Alabama, killed one maintenance worker, injured five others and shut down a major oil products artery that links Texas to New York. The injured workers, some in critical condition, were transported to hospitals in Birmingham, about 30 miles north, said Lt. Russell Bedsole of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

Colonial Pipeline Co. network with breach site marked by red dot
Colonial Pipeline Co. network with breach site marked by red dot

The company said the maintenance team ran into the pipeline with a trackhoe, igniting gasoline and causing the fire. Emergency crews built a barrier 2.5 metres high to contain the burning fuel, and two wildfires caused by the explosion had been contained to an area of around 12 hectares 24 hours later.

This is the second major incident to affect Colonial Pipeline Co. pipelines in Shelby County in the last two months. A leak on September 9 dumped up to 336,000 gallons of gasoline into a wildlife management area.

The pipeline is one of two that connect more than two dozen refineries in Texas and Louisiana with cities in the East, from Atlanta to New York. It provides nearly 40% of the region's gasoline and usually runs at full capacity. The spill in September shut the line for 12 days, cutting supplies to 50 million US consumers.

Colonial installed a new section of pipe to bypass the first leak but the latest incident has resulted in the closure of both the gasoline and the jet fuel/diesel pipelines, which is expected to cause another period of shortage and fuel  price rises in the southeastern USA.

Colonial plays a key role in supplying the area because there are no refineries between Alabama and Pennsylvania that produce substantial quantities of transportation fuels. Its pipelines have a capacity of 2.6 million barrels a day of refined products, while the only other pipeline serving the region, operated by the Plantation Pipe Line Co., carries just 700,000 barrels a day.

The explosion and fire comes as the US oil industry faces a backlash from environmentalists opposed to building new pipelines, including the controversial $3.8 billion Dakota Access oil pipeline. Last year, the Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL project. In early October, climate change activists disrupted oil flows by turning off valves in several remote pumping stations along Enbridge Inc.’s main pipeline, which runs from Canada to the US Midwest.

Colonial is owned by a group that includes Koch Capital Investments Co. and a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

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