ATLANTA — A major gasoline pipeline leak that left many in the South scrambling to find fuel was repaired Wednesday, but the region’s supplies were expected to remain spotty for several more days.
For hard-hit Georgia, gas stations likely won’t return to business as usual until at least this weekend, said Richard Lewis, who heads the fuel and measures division with the state Department of Agriculture.
“We were getting about 50 percent of the product that we normally get,” Lewis said Wednesday. “So it will take a few days for it to filter all the way down and for everything to get back to normal.”
The state initiated strategies, such as allowing gas stations to begin selling winter fuel a few weeks early, to try to keep tanks from drying up.
Other tactics included trucking in fuel from the coast, which receives much of its gas by barge and was mostly unaffected by the leak.
Companies also staggered refueling for gas stations in hopes of preventing entire localities from being without fuel.
“It got a little hairy,” Lewis said, adding that most of the state is supplied by that pipeline.
The pipeline ruptured in central Alabama, reportedly dumping more than 250,000 gallons of gasoline and causing disruptions in fuel markets throughout the Southeast.
The owner, Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline, built a 500-foot bypass around the leak, which was discovered Sept. 9. It’s unclear now what caused the pipe to rupture.
Colonial Pipeline announced Wednesday evening that it had reopened the gasoline line.
Word of a potential shortage spread over the weekend, spurring Georgians to rush to fill up their tanks. Outages continued to be reported across the state as of Wednesday.
The average price of regular fuel in Atlanta jumped 31 cents from a week ago, according to GasBuddy, a site that monitors gas prices. As of Wednesday afternoon, the average price was $2.50 per gallon.
Reports that gas prices had “substantially increased in some markets” led Gov. Nathan Deal to invoke an anti-price gouging law on Monday.
As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 200 complaints of price gouging had been filed with the consumer protection unit of the attorney general’s office.
Deal also issued an executive order waiving truckers from the usual 10-hour driving restriction for four days, to encourage fuel shipments.
The governor later extended that by a week.
The busted pipeline does not carry diesel fuel, sparing the trucking industry of a shortage, said Ed Crowell, who heads the Georgia Motor Trucking Association.
“So, we’re basically helping everybody else out rather than suffering ourselves in that respect,” Crowell said.
That does, however, mean truckers are working longer hours. Deal's order leaves it up to drivers and their companies to know when to pump the brakes.
Crowell said drivers know their own limits.
“I think we’ve seen that so far,” he said. “They’ve been doing what they can to keep the gasoline moving.”
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.