Romeoville pipeline break pushing up gas prices

September 13, 2010 6:43:34 PM PDT
Work crews in the southwest suburbs have stopped the leak in a crude oil pipeline, but area gas prices rose during the weekend.Federal investigators are trying to find out why the pipe failed.

As the repair work continues, the break is pushing up prices at the gas pump, because the disruption has stopped the flow of crude to local refineries.

The pipeline ruptured last Thursday in an industrial area of southwest suburban Romeoville.

The 12-foot section of pipe where the rupture occurred has been removed and is being shipped off to Washington, D.C., where the National Transportation Safety Board will oversee an analysis.

The NTSB has to do a full review of the pipeline before it can be green lighted to reopen, and that does not happen overnight.

Enbridge Energy was sending a team of investigators out Monday night to check out a possible leak at another pipeline that runs from Ontario to New York.

The pipeline that leaked in Romeoville is nearly a yard in diameter and when it ruptured last week, it sent oil bubbling up into the street. The break itself, however, is not all that big.

"The leak is probably anywhere from about an inch-and-a-half to three inches in size," said Sam Borries of the United States Environmental Protection Agency Region 5. "It's a relatively small opening, and it seems like a lot of oil can come out of a small opening."

The ballpark guess is that 6,000 barrels of crude escaped from the leak. Most of it has been recovered, and there's no evidence ay present that it invaded the groundwater.

Before the oil can start flowing again, government pipeline experts have to check the integrity of the 42-year-old pipeline, and there's no immediate timetable for that. The process could take weeks.

"It's too early to speculate as to the exact restart date of this pipeline," said Gina Jordan of Enbridge Pipeline. "We'll be working... on that restart plan and hopefully I will have more information you for shortly."

In the meantime, Enbridge Pipeline's Lakehead system is down. Line 6A is the line with the Romeoville rupture, and line 6B broke in Michigan in late July and still has not been restarted.

The shortage of crude has immediately jumped prices at the pump.

"Prices, you probably noticed over the weekend, you know, are up almost 15 cents from where they were just a week ago. In some areas a little higher, some areas a little lower," said Phil Flynn of PFG Research. "This is a major pipeline that feeds four of the major refineries in the Midwest, and when it's down, we immediately see an impact on gasoline prices, and that's what we've been slammed with in the short period of time."

The cost of the cleanup is growing. Romeoville's waste water treatment plant was fouled with crude oil, and the Valley View School District had to relocate its buses, which are housed near the leak site.

Enbridge, the pipeline owner, is looking at alternate means to get crude here, including trucking it or piping it through other lines, but they are few and far between.

This particular pipeline serves four Midwestern refineries, and the law of supply and demand suggests that as long as that line is down, the more consumers will end up playing.


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