Pipeline leak causes alarm
Whether or not to fill-up has been an easy decision, if not one made out of uncertainty, for many local motorists after a leak in an Alabama section of the Colonial pipeline spurred a partial closure of the fuel supply infrastructure that stretches from Texas to New Jersey.
“We’ve been unbelievably busy today,” said Edna Holt at Holt’s Drive Thru Convenience Store Monday, Sept. 19. “(A lot of) people are getting fill-ups, but most of them are just topping it off because they have to make sure they (have a way to) get to work.”
One mile across town, at the BP Clipper station on South Main Street, store manager Stephanie Lee taped yellow notes reading “Out” on most of the station’s pumps Monday. A message from Clipper Petroleum that requested gas purchases be limited to 10 gallons so the station can serve “all customers and government vehicles, including local police and fire departments” also appeared.
“Today we ran out of regular and Silver. We have Ultimate, Silver with no Ethanol, diesel and off-road diesel,” Lee said.
By Tuesday, the Ellijay BP’s fuel supply had been replenished. Still, the lower priced regular and mid-grade gas was expected to run out first.
“Usually we (get deliveries) about three times a week. Lately we’ve been getting one every day but it’s been running out by the time we close,” Lee said.
Gilmer Public Works Director Jim Smith said county vehicles, including those driven by emergency responders, have not been affected by fuel shortages.
“Thomas Oil, our supplier, has kept us well-stocked. They are taking care of our emergency vehicles first and then the others,” Smith confirmed.
As of Tuesday, work was underway to construct a temporary pipeline bypass that will allow regular fuel distribution to resume to states affected by the shortage.
According to AAA, Georgia is one of seven states experiencing “tighter supply and slightly higher prices,” along with Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
“While there is plenty of gasoline and crude supply, the pipeline is the most efficient way to deliver the product to Georgia,” said Garrett Townsend, public affairs director for the AAA Auto Club Group. “All these states have already seen the switch from summer to winter grade gasoline, so that won’t be a factor.”
A recent statement from North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory touched on the pipeline bypass efforts.
“Based on our ongoing updates from Colonial, the construction of a bypass pipeline is moving forward which will soon allow fuel supply operations to return to normal,” McCrory said.
Holt said her station’s Gainesville-based gas supplier told her that fuel was “getting really hard to get” on their end, but the supplier remained hopeful that would not be the case by the end of the week.
“We had ordered (our gas) last week, so we were already scheduled for it. Otherwise we would’ve already been out,” she said about what fuel remained at the family-owned, full service station on Industrial Boulevard. “I hope if people can hold out this week, things will start turning around.”
Georgia’s average gas price was $2.13 as of Sept. 16, according to AAA reports. On Tuesday, local prices hovered in the $2.30-$2.50 range for a gallon of regular unleaded at stations that still had it in stock. Prices for premium unleaded were in the $3 a gallon range.
Although bagged pump handles and gas price signs reading 0.00 or nothing at all were common sights earlier in the week, at least there were still options for motorists whose needles were fast approaching empty.
“We’ve been getting a lot of phone calls from people wanting to know if we have gas or not. They’re happy that we still have the Ultimate, so at least they can come and get some kind of gas,” Lee said Monday.