CHARLOTTE, NC (The Charlotte Observer) – Colonial Pipeline Co. faces a fine of $ 200,000 a day if it fails to improve the way it detects leaks in its U.S. pipeline system after a leak of massive gasoline in Huntersville, according to a recent settlement in the matter with the US government.
The deal directs Colonial to find and use a better leak detection system across its network, citing several recently disclosed leaks over the years.
Colonial, meanwhile, faces separate potential action from the State Department of Environmental Quality for the August 2020 leak at the Mecklenburg County Oehler Nature Reserve, told The Charlotte Observe State Senator Natasha Marcus, D-Huntersville.
Two young ATV riders accidentally stumbled across the Huntersville leak and reported it in August.
The spill was one of the worst in the state, said Michael Regan, then secretary of the NCDEQ, in September. Regan now heads the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The company eventually reported that nearly 18 times more gasoline was leaking from its hose than its initial estimate, according to the June 15 agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
A spokesperson for the administration did not say why the agency did not impose a fine for the spill as part of the settlement. Instead, in an email, he pointed out to the Observer the potential fine of $ 200,000 per day provided for in the deal.
But the leak into Mecklenburg’s Oehler Nature Reserve was just the latest of several large spills in Colonial’s pipeline system, the settlement revealed.
“Colonial has experienced several other accidents that were not detected by its leak detection system or by Colonial personnel,” federal officials wrote.
The leaks included 309,540 gallons of gasoline near Pelham, Alabama, in September 2016; 588 gallons in Gwinnett County, Ga., As of February 2016; and 4,000 gallons in Centerville, Va., as of September 2015, according to regulation.
The company has until Oct. 15 to show how and when it will improve its leak detection process, according to the agreement with PHMSA.
COLONIAL PIPELINE RESPONSE
In an emailed statement to the Charlotte Observer on Thursday, a Colonial Pipeline spokesperson said:
“In accordance with our safety management practices, Colonial Pipeline began implementing lessons learned from the Huntersville incident almost immediately after it occurred.
“The Consent Agreement describes a number of actions Colonial has agreed to take and we appreciate the opportunity to resolve this matter after consultation with the PHMSA.”
THE RECOVERY OF ESSENCE CONTINUES
Crews from Colonial Pipeline Co. have recovered at least 1.2 million gallons of gasoline and continue to determine how much of it could be left in the ground, according to a July 1 update posted on the company’s website.
In September, the NCDEQ ordered the company to restore groundwater quality to state standards and submit detailed monthly reports on everything from soil, surface water and water sampling results from wells to its excavation and the elimination of contaminated soils.
Colonial said weekly testing is continuing for water supply wells to homes within 1,500 feet of the leak.
“No petroleum constituents were detected in the water supply well samples. Environmental monitoring, including air quality and noise, continues, ”the company said.
“Colonial remains committed to protecting human health and the environment and we will be there as long as it takes to recover the product and clean up this area safely. “
PENDING STATE ACTION
Marcus, the state senator who represents the Huntersville area, said she expects the company, at some point, to separately face a hefty financial penalty from environmental regulators in the North Carolina.
The state was not involved in the June 15 settlement, Marcus said in an email to the Observer.
The federal regulations “will not impact DEQ’s decision on the appropriate amount of penalties,” she said, referring to the State Department of Environmental Quality. “This decision will be made when all the relevant facts are known, such as how long the hose was leaking, why it was leaking, why Colonial did not detect the leak and how much gasoline got into the ground and the water in Huntersville.
A spokesperson for the state DEQ could not be reached on Friday for an update on the state’s investigation into the spill.
“We know it’s over 1.2 million gallons, but we don’t yet have an estimate of how many gallons are in the newly discovered deeper pocket,” Marcus said. “When all the facts are known, I am confident that the NCDEQ will assess significant penalties, if any, given the sheer size of the leak and the disruption it caused to residents.
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