ATLANTA — A main gas line is expected to restart today with a temporary bypass after a leak and spill in Alabama led to surging fuel prices and some gas shortages across the South, a company official said Tuesday.
The roughly 500-feet section of pipe that will serve as the bypass is now complete, and the company expects that will allow it to restart the main gasoline line, Colonial Pipeline spokesman Steve Baker told The Associated Press.
"[Today's] restart of the main gasoline line is a key milestone," Baker said. "However, it will take a few days for the fuel supply chain to fully recover."
The bypass was needed to move fuel around the leak of its main gasoline pipeline in Shelby County, Ala. The leak, which spilled between 252,000 gallons and 336,000 gallons of gasoline into a detention pond, was detected Sept. 9.
The leak led to some gas shortages and higher prices at the pumps in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
A Colonial line runs through Chattanooga and stretches north of Nashville and Knoxville. Colonial Pipeline was the company that lost at least 75,000 gallons of spilled diesel fuel in a deep sinkhole near Lookout Mountain in 1996.
On Tuesday, gas prices continued to climb in several southern states, the auto club AAA reported.
Chattanooga gas prices rose an average of 4 cents a gallon more on Tuesday, according to the daily price survey of area stations by AAA. The average price of regular gas in Chattanooga Tuesday was more than $2.19 per gallon, up nearly 24 cents a gallon from a year ago and up 30 cents a gallon from a month ago.
Despite the pipeline shutdown, most gas stations in the Chattanooga area still reported having gasoline, although some were selling only diesel or premium brands. In response to the shortage, the online gas tracking service www.gasbuddy.com has activated its Gasoline Availability Tracker for drivers in six states to see what gas stations still have fuel.
The tool was created in 2012 to assist motorists in the Northeast in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
In Georgia, Tuesday's average price for regular gas rose about 5 cents from Monday, to an average of $2.36 per gallon statewide — up nearly 27 cents over the past week. Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia also saw prices climb since Monday, AAA reported Tuesday.
In Alabama, Gov. Robert Bentley said gas prices in parts of the state rose 20 cents over the weekend after the pipeline leak, but said he didn't consider that price gouging.
"It changes overnight sometimes that much," he said.
Bentley toured Colonial Pipeline's emergency response center, in a luxury resort hotel about 12 miles (19 kilometers) from the pipeline breach, and spent much of a news conference Monday praising the company's response.
A disaster drill was held coincidentally last year near the scene of the spill, he said, and that helped the company plan and execute a response that included about 700 people so far.
"Oh, yeah, I've noticed that the prices have just gone up — I mean, through the roof!" Tom Wargo said at a gas station northeast of Atlanta.
Wargo runs a nonprofit organization that supplies pet food to people in need and spends much of his time on the road. He just returned from a road trip to Louisiana, where he helped people after the floods there, he said.
"I tried getting gas yesterday and a lot of the stations had no gas at all, except diesel," Wargo said Monday.
"We certainly expect the gas prices to increase, certainly while this line is under repair and not at full capacity," AAA spokesman Garrett Townsend said Monday.
In Tennessee, nearly 600 complaints about high gas prices were registered with the state in the past few days, though most of those were around Nashville, according to the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.
According to a preliminary report, it wasn't possible to immediately pinpoint the leak, partly because highly flammable benzene and gasoline vapors hung in the air and prevented firefighters, company officials and anyone else from being near the site for more than three days.
State workers discovered the leak when they noticed a strong gasoline odor and sheen on a man-made retention pond, along with dead vegetation nearby, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in the report.
The report does not identify the cause of the leak. The agency, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is investigating the leak in a section of the pipeline constructed in 1963, it said.
Governors across the South issued executive orders last week to suspend limitations on trucking hours, allowing drivers to stay on the road longer to bring fuel to gas stations.