An interstate gasoline pipeline has ruptured in central Alabama, spilling 338,000 gallons of fuel in an ecologically sensitive area and threatening fuel shortages across the eastern US. So far governors in Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina have declared states of emergency.

The greatest danger from the spill, and what led to the declarations of emergency, is the likelihood that fuel shortages will affect states across the eastern US, starting in the southeast. The executive orders will loosen restrictions on fuel trucks, allowing them to supply gasoline where the pipe would have normally. Truck drivers will be able to work longer shifts than usually allowed by the US Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile the tanker ship Ohio is on its way from Texas to New York with a freight of fuel to slake the need in northeastern states. By Friday afternoon it had rounded Florida and was off the coast near Savannah, Georgia.

North Carolina governor Pat McCrory wrote in his emergency declaration that “the uninterrupted supply of fuel oil, diesel oil, and gasoline, is essential for the health, safety, or economic well-being of persons or property in North Carolina, and any interruption of those fuels threatens the public welfare.”

Colonial also has opened up a second pipeline, called Line 2, that runs parallel to the burst line. It normally carries diesel and other petrol chemicals, but has now shifted to gasoline.

The fuel that spilled may be useable, once it is drawn from the retention pond. On Friday Colonial had more than 500 workers at the site, trying to unearth the pipe and repair it.

“They have been amazingly transparent,” said Crawford, of Cahaba Riverkeepers. “We actually hope their response will serve as a model for future incidents.”

The job is only just beginning, though, and it is dangerous. The fumes from the spill are so volatile, Crawford said, that airspace above it has been closed, and roads in every direction are blocked.

Pinkney, the EPA spokesman, said that temporary dams have been installed downstream of the retention pond, so that if any gasoline leaks from the retention pond it can be stopped before it reaches the Cahaba river.