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Energy & Environment

Huntersville gas spill total rises again; size remains a mystery

011421 Colonial gasoline spill map.jpg
Colonial Pipeline (via NCDEQ)
A revised map from Colonial Pipeline's December report to state regulators shows recovery and monitoring wells around the spill site in Huntersville. The yellow and black line is the pipeline and the yellow dotted line is the area where gasoline has been recovered.

Colonial Pipeline says it's still recovering gasoline daily from a massive spill nearly 18 months ago in Huntersville, and still has no estimate of how much might be left.

The spill in August 2020 was the largest in state history and one of the largest gasoline spills on land in the U.S. It happened when previous repairs on a 40-inch pipeline burst underground at the Oehler Nature Preserve, about two miles east of downtown Huntersville.

In its December monthly report to state regulators, Colonial said nearly 1.4 million gallons of gasoline had been recovered by year's end, up from a previous tally of 1.2 million gallons last summer.

A Colonial spokesperson said in an email that workers are still collecting gasoline from recovery wells around the site. "The daily recovery rate varies, however it is approximately 1,000 gallons per day," he said.

And he said the company still has no estimate of how much remains or when the cleanup might be finished.

"As we have stated previously, we are committed to remaining on site for as long as it takes to remediate the area. Our priorities remain safely recovering product and restoring the area and surrounding environment," he said.

Colonial also has been testing surface water and monitoring other chemicals released in the spill. And it has paid to connect some nearby homes with private wells to city water.

The state Department of Environmental Quality sued Colonial Pipeline in state court in November saying the company broke state law by failing to provide updates on the size and extent of the spill. In a response last month, Colonial said it has supplied some information, but other data is "not feasible to provide."

Colonial said the suit "lacks factual and legal basis."

The nearly 60-year-old pipeline runs 5,500 miles from Texas to New Jersey. It's actually two pipelines - the gasoline line and a 36-inch pipe for diesel, jet and other fuels.

Federal regulators warned in April 2021 that because of the pipeline's condition, similar spills could occur all along the pipeline. A deal last summer with federal regulators requires new inspections and repairs along the length of the pipeline.

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Corrected: January 16, 2022 at 9:44 AM EST
This article has been updated to correct that the pipeline spill was nearly 18 months ago, not 2 years ago.