State officials took steps Tuesday to try to stave off fuel shortages in North Carolina after an explosion and fire at a gasoline pipeline in Alabama, but AAA Carolinas warns that gas prices are likely to rise.
Gov. Pat McCrory said the explosion has shut down Colonial Pipeline Line 1, which he said provides about 70 percent of North Carolina’s fuel supply. Colonial Pipeline said Tuesday that it anticipates the line being out of service for the remainder of the week.
McCrory signed an executive order that temporarily suspends vehicle size and weight restrictions for trucks carrying gasoline and waives limits on the number of hours drivers of those trucks can be on the road. With the pipeline down, it’s expected that more fuel will have to arrive in the state by truck.
“The Colonial Pipeline disruption is a transportation challenge, not a production challenge,” he said.
McCrory also extended the state law against price gouging, which was still in effect after Hurricane Matthew. Attorney General Roy Cooper, McCrory’s opponent in next week’s election for governor, urged people to report instances of price gouging, which state law defines as “a price that is unreasonably excessive under the circumstances.”
“Consumers are our eyes and ears on the ground, and we use their complaints to investigate possible price gouging,” Cooper said. “If you spot excessive prices during this time of crisis please let us know.”
Consumers can report suspected price gouging online at www.ncdog.gov or by calling 1-877-566-7226.
McCrory said Colonial Pipeline Line 2, which carries diesel, airline and heating fuel, was also shut down Monday but was operating again at diminished capacity. Colonial Pipeline connects Gulf Coast refineries with 13 southern and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia.
Monday’s explosion occurred when a track hoe struck the pipeline, killing one worker and injuring five others, according to Colonial Pipeline. The fire continued to burn Tuesday, and firefighters built an earthen berm to contain the burning fuel, according to the Associated Press.
The explosion comes less than two months after a Colonial Pipeline leak near Helena, Alabama, shut down the pipeline for 12 days and resulted in higher prices and fuel shortages in North Carolina. McCrory said it’s not clear whether the fuel reserves that were depleted then have been rebuilt.
But AAA Carolinas says motorists should expect gas prices to rise as a result of the shutdown, as suppliers switch to barges and long-distance trucking to get fuel to the region.
“If September’s shutdown was any indicator of what we should expect, prices are definitely going to spike at the pump,” said Tiffany Wright, public relations manager for AAA Carolinas. “We saw price spikes of 20 to 30 cents in some areas, and there were a ton of stations with bagged pumps due to shortages.”
To try to conserve fuel, McCrory also ordered that state employees not take any non-essential trips.