A mistake during repairs to the Colonial pipeline, which ruptured in September, resulted in a massive explosion and started a wildfire, prompting Alabama's governor to declare a state of emergency.
In September, the Colonial pipeline – the largest pipeline in the US – made headlines after it ruptured, leaking 336,000 gallons of gasoline into the countryside of Central Alabama. Workers have been trying to repair the pipeline ever since. However, yesterday the repairs turned deadly when workers accidentally struck a transmission pipe while trying to dig up threaded O-rings to make that section of the pipeline inactive. The ruptured pipe exploded almost immediately, injuring six workers and killing one. Others are reported missing. The explosion also started a huge fire, whose plumes of smoke and flame could be seen from miles away. Searches for those missing have been unable to move forward as the fire’s intense heat has prevented rescue personnel from returning to the area. The explosion took place around one mile west from the site of original rupture.
In response to the mayhem, Alabama governor Robert Bentley has declared a month-long state of emergency, effective from today until December 1st. The state of emergency will temporarily lift the federal government’s limitation on the number of hours a driver can transport gasoline. Alabama and Georgia did something similar during the September spill as a way to keep the price of gas from skyrocketing. However, the pipeline, which has been unable to function since the September rupture, have already impacted the gasoline supplies of Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Repairs from the September spill were expected to be completed by the end of this year, though yesterday’s explosion makes this less likely.
Meanwhile the secondary part of the pipeline, which transports jet fuel and other petroleum products instead of gasoline, was returned to service today, despite the recent explosion. The Colonial pipeline company was eager to get even part of the pipeline back to work as the company has lost significant amounts of profit since the pipeline has been shut down since the recent leak. This is clearly another demonstration that, for oil and gas companies, the profit is what matters and all other concerns – especially those involving their often faulty pipelines – are only of tangential importance. Many communities, particularly those who have been affected by pipeline spills, are all too aware of this fact. It is also this realization that pushed the Standing Rock Sioux and others to prevent the construction of a pipeline through their land and under one of the country’s major rivers. If even repairing these pipelines can cause such destruction, how can people keep calling them “safe”?
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