One worker is dead and at least five others were severely burned when Colonial Pipeline’s major gasoline conduit exploded Monday afternoon in Shelby County, Ala., about five miles from where a break in the same pipeline triggered a short-lived fuel crisis in the South.
Colonial Pipeline said that a crew working for contractor L.E. Bell Construction company were to drain a stretch of the 36-inch pipeline of gasoline. Around 2 p.m., a trackhoe used for digging earth hit the pipeline and triggered the explosion, creating a giant plume of fire and black smoke visible for miles.
Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego told AL.com that the person killed and those injured were subcontractors working for L.E. Bell Construction. Four of the injured workers are being treated for severe burns and other blast injuries at UAB Hospitals Trauma Burn Intensive Care Unit.
The explosion occurred in a rural area and set off two wildfires that have since consumed 31 acres of forest. Most of the state is experiencing an extreme drought, and people living within three miles of the blast have been evacuated as firefighters work to contain the blaze.
The blast caused Colonial to shut its pipeline down for the second time since a breach was detected on Sept. 9. By the time Colonial confirmed that break and shut off the pipeline, it had released between 6,000 and 8,000 barrels (252,000 – 336,000 gallons) of gasoline into an old coal mine about 30 miles south of Birmingham.
According to Fortune Magazine, the Colonial pipeline is the “the largest gasoline conduit in the United States.” It moves about 1.3 million barrels (or 54.6 million gallons) of gasoline per day from refineries in Houston to points all over the Eastern Seaboard up to New York City, supplying about 40 percent of the energy needs of the East Coast.
September’s break sparked a major fuel crisis in many parts of the South. The break caused a 50 percent reduction in supply, which led gas stations in several southern states to run out of fuel.
On Tuesday, the shuttered pipeline set gasoline and diesel prices soaring on the East Coast. Fuel shortages and higher prices at the pump are expected to continue for the next several days until the section of destroyed pipeline can be replaced.