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Colonial Pipeline: Huntersville Gas Leak Four Times Bigger Than First Thought

Courtesy Mike Harvey
An aerial photo of the leak site, next to Huntersville-Concord Road

The company behind a gasoline pipeline leak in Huntersville last month says it now believes the leak is much bigger than first thought. Colonial Pipeline says at least 272,580 gallons of gasoline leaked, and gasoline is still being cleaned up.

This new estimate is more than four times the original one of 63,000 gallons. Colonial Pipeline was required to report that first estimate within 48 hours of discovering the leak in mid-August. State Sen. Natasha Marcus, who represents Huntersville, says she was shocked by the new number. Marcus recounted a recent briefing the company gave her on the leak.

"Now that they had gotten down all the way to the source of the leak, had much more time to look it over, the way they put it was, they are finding product that they did not know was there before," Marcus said. "In other words, it was buried."

Marcus said it’s possible the leak began before it was reported on Aug. 14. The leak, near Huntersville-Concord Road and Asbury Chapel Road, was discovered after two teenagers riding ATVs saw gasoline bubbling up from the ground. The leak site is within the 142-acre Oehler Nature Preserve, which the pipeline crosses.

The Huntersville leak would be one of the largest documented leaks in the pipeline. A 2016 leak near Birmingham, Alabama, released just over 300,000 gallons. Colonial posted on its incident response website that it has done four rounds of sampling and no private drinking wells nearby show evidence of contamination. But it also said it had cleaned up "approximately half" of the total gasoline spilled, from contaminated soil and shallow groundwater. Marcus said cleanup and then monitoring of the area would likely take years.

"I just think everybody’s eyes are really opening to what a huge environmental impact this is going to have," Marcus said. "And unfortunately we are in the unenviable position now of our state’s largest gasoline leak."

Michael Falero is a radio reporter, currently covering voting and the 2020 election. He previously covered environment and energy for WFAE. Before joining WFAE in 2019, Michael worked as a producer for a number of local news podcasts based in Charlotte and Boston. He's a graduate of the Transom Story Workshop intensive on Cape Cod and UNC Chapel Hill.