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What is the Colonial Pipeline?

The Colonial Pipeline is one of two major pipelines hat connect more than two dozen refineries in Texas and Louisiana with cities in the East, from Atlanta to New York.

The Colonial Pipeline provides nearly 40 percent of the region’s gasoline and usually runs at or near full capacity. It has been in the news this week since it sprung a major leak south of Birmingham. The leak has disrupted fuel service to states in the Southeast and shortages are erupting in major cities like Nashville and Atlanta and prices are rising sharply at stations that do have gas.

“Our pipeline system consists of more than 5,500 miles of underground pipe and above ground storage tanks and pump stations,” the Colonial Pipeline company says on its site. “Every day, Colonial transports more than 100 million gallons of fuel. Most of it originates in the refinery-rich region of the Gulf Coast. Colonial’s network of pipelines crosses 13 states, serving more than 265 marketing terminals in the Southern and Eastern United States.”

The company says it serves some 50 million consumers.

Tom Kloza, an energy analyst with the Oil Price Information Service, said some stations in the Southeast could run short on supply and boost their prices by 20 or 30 cents a gallon.

“The Colonial Pipeline is the metaphorical aorta for the supply to the most-populated regions of the country, and you’ve lost 10 days of blood flow,” Kloza said. The good news, he added, is that the disruption comes at a time when gasoline prices are down sharply from a couple years ago.

The Colonial Pipeline was built in 1962. This is the largest leak it has experienced in 20 years, according to reports.

Georgia-based Colonial Pipeline estimated that the pipeline rupture near Birmingham has spilled 252,000 to 336,000 gallons of gasoline, most of which was corralled in a retention pond. The company downplayed any threat to public safety.

It is not clear when the leak started. It was detected Sept. 9. Colonial said work crews would begin excavation work Friday and repairs would continue through the weekend. Workers might put up a temporary stretch of pipeline around the leak, the company said.