ATLANTA – The search for gasoline continued Monday for many metro Atlantans after a gas leak spurred a weekend of panic-buying from consumers and claims of price-gouging by some stations.
The gas spill reportedly happened in part of a pipeline in Helena, Ala. It was first detected on Sept. 9. Officials don’t know when it began, but it’s believed to have leaked more than 250,000 gallons of gasoline.
The spill threatened fuel supplies in at least five states: Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. The U.S. Department of Transportation ordered the company responsible, Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline, to take corrective action before the fuel starts flowing again.
Tuesday Colonial Pipeline, the company responsible for the spill, said they expect the pipeline to back up and running on Wednesday September 21. They released an update on repairs saying in part, "When Line 1 restarts, it will take several days for the fuel delivery supply chain to return to normal. As such, some markets served by Colonial Pipeline may experience, or continue to experience, intermittent service interruptions."
The company said they are still moving gasoline into the states throughout this process.
"Most of our gasoline is pumped in from other states, a large share, maybe 70 percent of it,” said Emory economist Tom Smith.
Last week, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency that allowed the state to suspend limitations on trucking hours allowing drivers to stay on the road longer to bring fuel into the state.
As word of the potential fuel shortage spread, more and more consumers hit the road in search of fuel. That led to some reports of prices shooting up to as high as $5 at some stations.
On Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal issued an executive order reinforcing the state’s anti-gouging legislation.
"The prices can't go too high, or else individual establishments will be hit with a penalty,” Smith said.
What exactly constitutes “too high”?
"Well that's where the legislation is a little murky,” Smith said.
The law doesn't say what price constitutes gouging.
"The freakout is what leads to all of the impulse buying,” Smith said.
Smith said it often forces stations to let their supplies run out.
"It may actually cost an individual gas station more to go out and get gasoline to bring to their customers than they can actually charge the customers because of this legislation,” he said. "So you end up with a gas station with no gas."
Deal is encouraging Georgians to stick to their normal gas-buying habits and not to buy out of panic.
In a statement Monday, Colonial Pipeline said a pipeline bypass was scheduled to be completed by the end of the week. The company said a contingency plan has been put into place and that supplies of gasoline are being delivered to terminal locations in the impacted states.
"We continue to be in regular communication with our customers, who are also working on their own individual contingency plans to minimize supply disruptions," the statement reads. "This includes trucking and barging fuel from other markets and refineries."
Photos | Gas pipeline leak in Alabama
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