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Colonial Deal With U.S. Regulator Requires Inspection, Repairs On Full Pipeline

Colonial Pipeline spill
Mike Harvey
Aerial view of the site of the Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Huntersville in February.

Colonial Pipeline has reached a settlement with federal pipeline regulators over how it will respond to a massive gasoline spill last August in Huntersville and prevent future leaks.

Officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have said they worry about more leaks along the 5,500-mile pipeline from Texas to New Jersey. They cited past spills in Virginia, Georgia and Alabama as evidence the company needs to improve its leak detection and maintenance processes.

At least 1.2 million gallons of gasoline spilled after a previous repair failed on a pipeline section in a nature preserve east of downtown Huntersville on Aug.14, 2020. It was the largest gasoline spill in North Carolina history and one of the largest in the nation.

The agreement filed last month avoids federal penalties or litigation.

"As a result of the informal consultation, PHMSA and Colonial agreed that settlement of this proceeding will avoid further administrative proceedings or litigation and will serve the public interest by promoting safety and protection of the environment," the agreement said.

Colonial agreed to evaluate and improve its leak detection system and maintenance practices. The company has until mid-October to submit a work plan and timeline. The company also must submit quarterly progress reports.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has also cited the company for violations of state rules. And DEQ officials have criticized the company for changing estimates of how much fuel was spilled. DEQ is continuing to monitor the cleanup at the site, off Huntersville-Concord Road in the Oehler Nature Preserve.

Huntersville Mayor John Aneralla said Wednesday that cleanup could go on for many years.

"I believe that the North Carolina DEQ will require them to have a presence for at least a decade to ensure that the water quality stays where it's supposed to be," he said on WFAE's "Charlotte Talks."

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David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.