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Explosion, fire in Alabama on gasoline pipeline kills one

Flames shoot into the sky from the gas line explosion in western Shelby County, Alabama

Colonial Pipeline Co shut down its main gasoline and distillates pipelines on Monday after an explosion and fire in Shelby, Alabama, killing a worker and sending five to the hospital – the second time in two months it had to close the crucial supply line to the U.S. East Coast.

A nine-man crew was conducting work on the Colonial pipeline system at the time of the explosion, Alabama Governor Robert Bentley told a briefing. Seven of the crew members were injured, with two evacuated by air.

The explosion occurred when a contract crew hit the gasoline pipeline (Line 1) with a trackhoe, igniting gasoline, Colonial said an e-mailed statement late on Monday.

One worker died at the scene and five individuals were taken to Birmingham-area hospitals for treatment, the company said.

Four were taken to the UAB hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, hospital spokesman Adam Pope said.

A segment of pipeline was undergoing maintenance on Monday afternoon when it exploded. The fire had been contained as of around 9 p.m. (0100 GMT on Tuesday), according to local media reports.

Crews built a 8-foot (2-meter) tall dirt dam to contain burning fuel, Bentley said on Twitter late on Monday.

The explosion sparked wildfires, burning 32 acres, the governor said.

Colonial said company personnel and emergency crews were responding to the incident. The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, said it had personnel on the way to the site.

Bentley’s office said on Twitter the site was about a mile west of a massive leak last month that closed the gasoline pipeline for over 12 days. A 3-mile (4.8-km) area around the site had been evacuated, the governor said.

A temporary flight restriction is in effect in the area around the pipeline explosion, the Alabama Emergency Management Agency said on Twitter.

Colonial, the biggest refined products system in the United States, is responsible for supplying about one-third of the 3.2 million barrels per day of gasoline consumed on the East Coast, according to U.S. Energy Department data.

Colonial was working to restart a section of pipeline damaged after its biggest leak of gasoline in nearly two decades on Sept. 9, which released as much as 8,000 barrels (336,000 gallons) of gasoline in Shelby County. The restart was planned for mid-November after removal of a bypass line installed after the September leak.

The pipeline closure drove up gasoline prices at the pump in the U.S. Southeast and on futures markets.

On Monday, U.S. gasoline futures jumped as much as 13 percent to $1.6351 a gallon, their highest since early June, following news of the explosion. Futures pared gains thereafter, falling by about 6 cents, or 3.7 percent.

The 5,500-mile (8,850-km) Colonial Pipeline is the largest U.S. refined products pipeline system and transports gasoline, diesel and jet fuel from the U.S. Gulf Coast to the New York Harbor area. The pipelines that shut run from Houston to Greensboro, North Carolina.

It has already had five spills reported in Alabama in 2016, including the one in September, according to PHMSA data.

Pipeline safety has come under increased scrutiny in recent months following a dispute over Energy Transfer Partners’ 1,100-mile (1,770-km) North Dakota Access Pipeline.

The U.S. government halted construction on a segment of that pipeline in early September following protests from Native Americans who said the pipeline could desecrate sacred grounds and that spills could contaminate drinking water.

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