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Alabama pipeline leaks

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World Pipelines,

A recent oil spill in Alabama was discovered on 9 September after a employee of the Alabama Surface Mining Commission was inspecting a monthly check on a coal mine. The inspector noticed a strong odour and could see a clear sheen on the surface of one of the retention ponds.

The smell and visible leak had come from Colonial Pipeline's Line 1, a 36 in. dia. pipeline, which ordinarily transports 1.3 million bpd of gasoline from refineries in Houston to distribution centres across southeast USA. Within 20 minutes of the leak being reported, Colonial Pipeline shutdown Line 1, however, on 17 September, officials estimated that 336 000 gal. of gasoline was lost.

abc News highlighted that this figure amounts to no more than approximately 37 truckloads at an industry-average 9000 gal. per tank. However, since the leak forced a critical pipeline to shut down, its impact was far greater. The pipeline section that failed, built in 1963, runs from Mississippi to Atlanta.

Colonial has since announced that it will construct a temporary pipeline in order to bypass the spill site but it gave no timetable for completing the bypass line. The company is reported by CNBC to have stated that it expects to restore service to its leaking pipeline in the very near future, after testing a 500 ft bypass section.

If the bypass section is ready for operation, Colonial anticipates that it will be connected to Line 1 and operating be operating by the end of this week. It also noted that it will take several days for the fuel delivery supply chain to return to normal.

This would bring much needed fuel to the southeast, where gas prices have been spiking since the spill.

Domestic impact

Domestic supplies have been widely affected, with gas stations in Alabama and Tennessee reporting outages of some or all grades of gasoline.

Gas prices have been continually rising at pumps, with shortages becoming more apparent each day. Experts believe that recent price hikes will get worse before they get better – even if the pipeline is fixed this week.

While drinking water has not been contaminated by the spill, officials are keeping an eye on a municipal well located about 8 km away.

Environmental impact

One of the biggest environmental concerns is the possibility of a multi-day rainstorm, which could cause the pond – and any fuel left inside – to overflow into the tributary, and into the Cahaba river. As a precaution, dams have been built on the tributary to scrape the fuel off the surface, while also allowing water to pass below.

With over a quarter of a million gallons of petrol spilt into an Alabama pond, the New Scientist has reported that this will threaten the rare species that are rich in the area.

According to Chris Smith of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, despite being just a few kilometers from the Cahaba river, the fuel has not yet travelled that far.

The Cahaba river is the longest undammed river in Alabama, including 13 species that are found only in the Cahaba, such as Cahaba lilies.

He commented: “Currently, it seems to be contained. […] There are, no doubt, some threats, but right now there doesn’t seem to be any significant impact on the Cahaba river or the tributary.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency has declared that sampling teams are working with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the Cahaba Riverkeeper and Colonial Pipeline Company to collect water quality samples throughout impacted and potentially impacted areas.

According to the statement: "current sampling results indicate that the Peel Creek and the Cahaba River are currently not impacted," but it will continue to monitor water quality in Peel Creek and the Cahaba River.

"We averted a disaster this time," said David Butler, an Environmentalist with Cahaba Riverkeeper.

Edited from various sources by Anna Nicklin

Sources: abc news,, CNBC, New Scientist

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