Colonial pipeline: Bypass fixed, gas could flow Wednesday

Colonial Pipeline says a fix is in place for the pipeline project that has been raising fuel fears across East Tennessee for days. We're listening to your questions, and getting you some answers about why you've seen a slight increase in price, and why so

The pipeline company working to repair a leak that led to gas shortages and higher prices for drivers across the South says its bypass repair is complete and it expects to restart its main gasoline line Wednesday.

Colonial Pipeline announced Tuesday morning that they are currently conducting structural integrity tests. 

Company spokesman Steve Baker told The Associated Press that crews have been working around the clock to get fuel to markets, and that it will take a few days for the fuel supply chain to fully recover after the line restarts.

AAA's Tennessee Public Affairs Director Stephanie Milani said they anticipate pump prices to return to last week's level "fairly soon after fuel deliveries are back on schedule." 

The leak has affected 11 states up the Eastern seaboard, including Tennessee.

"While there has not been a shortage of gasoline, there has been a delay in delivery, because the pipeline is the most efficient way to get fuel to those 11 states," Milani said. 

As of Tuesday, Tennessee's gasoline average was $2.14, up about 15 cents from last week. However, the state's average is still about seven cents below the national average. 

The 500-foot bypass was needed to move fuel around the leak of its main gasoline pipeline in Shelby County, Alabama. The leak, which spilled 6,000 barrels of gasoline into a detention pond, was detected Sept. 9.

Milani said the issue is few gas stations keep much fuel on-hand, instead relying on last-minute deliveries to maintain their supply - all for one reason:

"Price," Milani said. "It's most efficient to not have a warehouse full of stuff you don't know when you're going to use ... But when there's a disruption, it can cause the market to be turned on its head.”

"A lot of the branded stations like Shell or BP will have a steady supply of fuels from their parent companies," she added. "But the unbranded stations like Pilot or Weigel's, they may have a hard time buying that gas on the wholesale market."

Pilot/Flying J said they have not had any issues so far.

“Knoxville-area Pilot and Flying J travel centers and Pilot Convenience Stores have fuel available for customers, and we are not experiencing issues with fuel supply at this time. However, the longer the Colonial Pipeline is down, the more difficult it will be to maintain our supply of gasoline," said Brad Jenkins, Vice President Petroleum Supply and Distribution for Pilot.

Weigel's, however, has had trouble keeping stations supplied. Some had limited types of fuel, others, none at all for some time.

Bill Weigel, owner of Weigel's they've been forced to truck in fuel from nearly 6 hours away, and are struggling to meet demand.

"All we can do is the best we can, and we're doing it," he told WBIR 10News, noting they just could not buy enough to supply their 64 Knoxville stores.

He said he hopes the issue will be resolved locally by Sunday.

State officials are asking drivers not to compound the issue by making a run on stations. Dean Flener, of Tennessee Emergency Managment, said some stores in the state have seen a 50 percent increase in demand from fearful consumers.

"We're asking people to resume their normal fueling  habits," he said. "Don't top off when you've got three quarters of a tank."

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Fuel wholesalers and retailers are making progress to refill gas pumps across Tennessee, according to the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association. 

“The number of stations that are selling gas at any one time is constantly changing, as tankers are trying to make deliveries to as many stations as possible,” said Emily LeRoy, executive director of the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association.

“A station that you see out of gas at one time could have gas in the next hour. Consumers will continue to see intermittent outages as the industry works hard to get fuel back at the pumps," she said in a statement Monday. 

LeRoy said large volume fuel deliveries by barge are now reaching the Nashville terminal, which will increase supply in Middle Tennessee.

LeRoy told WBIR 10News that the Colonial Pipeline leak in Alabama has mainly affected Middle Tennessee. That is pushing people to the Knoxville area to get their fuel, which is putting a strain on the local stations, she said. 

The Colonial Pipeline is just one source of fuel for the state of Tennessee. The state also receives fuel from the Plantation Pipe Line Company in Chattanooga, among other sources. 

"Everybody's working around the clock to get more fuel in. People shouldn't worry," LeRoy said. 

One factor that contributes to higher prices at the pump is higher "rack" prices caused by a tight fuel supply across the Southeast and increased transportation costs as wholesalers have to travel longer distances to deliver fuel, she said. 

"It's important to know that convenience stores and fuel retailers do not benefit from escalating rack prices or freight charges - just the opposite. Retail fueling facilities do best when gas prices are low because customers are satisfied and have more disposable income to purchase products inside the store," the statement said. 

PREVIOUS STORY: Fuel wholesalers are delivering gas to Tennessee stations as quickly and safely as possible, but higher than usual fuel purchases are complicating resupplying efforts.

Executive director of the Tennessee Fuel and Convenience Store Association Emily LeRoy said that while supply is tight in the Southeast, there is fuel available and consumers should not make the problem worse by panicking.

“The greater challenge is that consumers are buying substantially more gas than usual,” she said in a statement. “I talked to a retailer this morning who told me that he had an 8,500-gallon delivery yesterday that would normally last three days and it sold out in six hours."

Gov. Bill Haslam declared a state of emergency on Friday to maintain an uninterrupted fuel supply in the state after the Colonial Pipeline leak in Alabama. Following the announcement, drivers in Nashville made a run on gas stations, causing long lines over the weekend. While Tennessee does not rely exclusively on the Colonial Pipeline for fuel, the fear of a shortage is causing problems for stations.

Officials are cautioning consumers not to change their purchasing patterns so stores can keep up with demand.

In a statement posted to her Facebook page Saturday, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry assured citizens that there is plenty of fuel available and to not make matters worse by panicking.

"Metro has plenty of fuel on hand to ensure there is no disruption to first responders or government services. In the meantime, I would urge my fellow Nashvillians not to make matters worse by buying gas when you don't need it. Increasing demand when supplies are low will only exacerbate the problem," she said,

LeRoy echoed Barry, advising consumers to give stations a chance to resupply.

“We encourage consumers to maintain their normal fuel purchasing and driving patterns so that retailers have time to resupply the pumps.”

(© 2016 WBIR)


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