AJC Watchdog: First Alert

Keeping watch on those who hold the public trust and money

Disaster strikes Alpharetta-based Colonial Pipeline again

Colonial Pipeline's main gasoline distribution artery into the Southeast is shut down again, after a deadly explosion Monday in Shelby County, Alabama -- the site of a September fuel leak that shuttered the same line and triggered price spikes across the Southeast.

Monday's tragedy happened when contractors hired by the Alpharetta-based pipeline company hit the line with a backhoe, igniting the fuel. One contractor was killed and at least five others were sent to the hospital with burns.

It's the first fatal accident in the past six years for Colonial Pipeline. But as The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in September, the company self-reported 128 spills since 2010 -- sixth-most among 208 companies operating pipelines across the country, according to federal data.

The AJC's analysis did not include natural gas or liquefied natural gas pipelines because those are regulated separately. But it found a combined 22 million gallons of fuel spilled into the environment by all of the companies during the past six years, costing $2.4 billion to clean up.

Colonial also reported spills in Cobb and Gwinnett counties.

Colonial owns and operates two pipelines that transport various kinds of fuel from the Gulf Coast to Atlanta, then to points along the Eastern Seaboard. Both of those lines run through Alabama, and have been shut down. The line that caused the fire is about five miles away from the line that spilled about 336,000 gallons in September.

It's unclear how long the 50-year-old pipelines will be down.

The September spill shut down the line for more than a week and disrupted the distribution of fuel all over the Southeast.

Founded in 1962, Colonial Pipeline has grown into one of the largest companies of its kind operating in the U.S. It reported operating revenues of $1.27 billion last year, when it moved 38 billion gallons of fuel through its system.


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About the Author

Dan Klepal is a reporter on the AJC’s investigative team, focusing mainly on local and state governments. Klepal previously covered Atlanta City Hall and Cobb County, where he wrote extensively about the public investment in SunTrust Park. Prior to coming to Atlanta, Klepal covered city governments in Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky.