Society

Major Alabama Gas Pipeline Explodes

| by Nik Bonopartis

One person was killed and several others were injured when a gas pipeline exploded in rural Alabama.

The Oct. 31 explosion sent dark plumes of smoke funneling into the air, the smoke column visible for miles around in photos posted to social media from people who live near the pipeline.

It took the combined resources of five local fire departments to bring the resulting fire under control, according to AL.com. But the fire also spread beyond the ruptured line, setting off two wildfires that ripped through 31 acres of land and prompted authorities to evacuate the surrounding area.

"The fire will not be out any time soon," Shelby County sheriff's Maj. Ken Burchfield told AL.com.

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The gas line was ruptured when a crew of subcontractors was trying to flush out one of the gas lines, Shelby County Sheriff John Samaniego said. They began to dig around the line with a trackhoe and that's when they ruptured its shell.

At least four victims were brought to a trauma burn intensive care unit at a Birmingham hospital, according to AL.com. Another three arrived later by ambulance, and a seventh victim was airlifted to the facility, a hospital spokesperson said. None of the victims had been named as of Nov. 1, and authorities hadn't released the name of the deceased victim.

The ruptured line is "a major artery" for gasoline and diesel, The Wall Street Journal reported, and the explosion-prompted shutdown was reflected in the stock market on Nov. 1, with gas and diesel prices spiking in response to the news.

The diesel pipeline was reactivated at midnight, Colonial Pipeline Co. told the newspaper, and the company says it hopes to restore the gas pipeline to service in less than a week. Much of that is contingent on the efforts of firefighters and the resulting investigation, however, with fire and police officials telling AL.com that the heat from the explosion and resulting blaze was making emergency response more difficult.

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Drivers and airline companies haven't been impacted by the disruption yet, analysts told the Journal, but they predicted a residual impact later in the week. The incident has the potential to cause fuel shortages in the southeast and the Atlantic coast, The Wall Street Journal reported.

That's what happened the last time the pipeline, which carries 2.5 million barrels of fuel daily from Houston, was shut down after an accident. An accident on Sept. 9 shut the pipeline down for 12 days and was responsible for the biggest gasoline spill in almost two decades, Reuters reported.

The contractors in the Oct. 31 accident were working on repairs from the earlier leak when they ruptured the line again.

"We were just beginning to recover from the gas price hikes we saw from the pipeline closure in September," AAA's Garrett Townsend told CNN, according to The Weather Channel. "The explosion will at least temporarily put a halt to the pump-price dip we've experienced over the past 30 days."

Sources: The Weather Channel, AL.com (2), The Wall Street Journal, Reuters / Photo credit: Steven Allen/Twitter

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