MARQUETTE - Area residents could see prices at the pump begin to fall this week as a faulty Wisconsin pipeline shut down last week is slated to reopen today.
Federal regulators say Enbridge Energy Partners can restart the pipeline that has been repaired after a July 27 rupture spilled an estimated 1,200 barrels of crude oil just east of Grand Marsh, Wis., in Adams County.
"(This) likely will mean a drop in prices, but everybody's all too familiar with retail prices dropping slower than they go up," said Patrick DeHaan, a senior petroleum analyst for www.gasbuddy.com, a website that monitors the price of fuel across the nation daily. "While prices will drop, it will be perhaps a few pennies per day at most."
The consent agreement announced Monday by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration states that when restarting the line, pressure in the pipe that extends from Superior, Wis., to the Chicago area must be restricted to no more than 80 percent of the pressure at the time of the failure until the cause of the leak is determined.
Enbridge also agreed to conduct aerial patrols of the line during and after restart to check for any leaks.
Enbridge said the failed section has been replaced and the company plans to reopen the pipeline today.
According to AAA's daily average of unleaded gas prices from the Marquette metropolitan area, prices began to rise steadily after news of the pipeline break was released, hitting a peak of $4.09 Monday. The price of gas on July 27, the day the pipeline broke, was $3.70.
Also integral to high gas prices in the area were several refineries in the Great Lakes region that were experiencing lower-than-normal production as a result of malfunctioning equipment.
However, DeHaan said he expects those refineries are now back to business as usual.
"With refineries, no news is good news. Refineries are pretty tight lipped on operations, so it's difficult to ascertain if those facilities are back and operational," DeHaan said. "But the lack of continued news regarding the plants likely signals that those plants are back online without any issues."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.