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Colonial Pipeline spill 30 times bigger than previously thought

In documents submitted to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality last week, Colonial estimates 2 million gallons were spilled. The spill could have started as much as 18 days before it was initially discovered in August 2020.

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Colonial Pipeline gas storage
By
Liz McLaughlin
, WRAL climate change reporter

One of the biggest onshore fuel spills in the nation is more than 30 times larger than previously thought, according to new data reported to the state.

Investigators originally estimated 63,000 gallons of gasoline had leaked from the Colonial Pipeline into the Oehler Nature Preserve in Huntersville, which is near Charlotte.

In documents submitted to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality last week, Colonial now estimates 2 million gallons were spilled. The spill could have started as much as 18 days before it was initially discovered in August 2020.

A communications manager with Colonial said the company has provided several volume release estimates to the NCDEQ since the initial release as well as monthly reports to the agency over the past two years.

In a statement posted to Colonial’s response website Friday, the company says it have recovered approximately 75% of the updated release estimate. “We will be here for as long as it takes to remediate the location.”

The Colonial Pipeline, the nation’s largest pipeline system, is 5,500 miles long and can carry 3 million barrels of gasoline between Texas and New York each day.

The new data follows a consent order approved earlier this month by the Mecklenburg County Superior Court requiring the Colonial Pipeline Company to provide an updated estimate of the volume of the spill and other remedial actions. The order also requires the company to pay almost five million dollars in penalties and investigative costs.

The DEQ said in a statement it will “implement the terms of the order with the full weight of the court to hold Colonial Pipeline accountable.”

"The consent order holds Colonial Pipeline accountable for the necessary cleanup and requires the company to meet its obligations to the communities impacted by the release" the department said. "Since the discovery of the release in August of 2020, DEQ has made it clear that an accurate volume estimate is necessary for appropriate planning, remediation and regulatory oversight."

Additionally, Colonial will be required to conduct regular sampling and monitoring for water quality, as well as testing for the presence of gasoline in the bedrock and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as forever chemicals or PFAS, in the environment.

The consent order follows a complaint and motion for injunctive relief filed by the DEQ in November that said Colonial failed to provide essential information required for remediation. Colonial answered the complaint, saying it had been working diligently to recover product and that the release didn’t pose a risk of harm to human health or the environment.

According to Colonial, nearly 10 million gallons of petroleum-contact water and 1.4 million gallons of free product have been recovered as of July 13, 2022.

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Liz McLaughlin, Reporter

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