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Colonial agrees to nearly $5M in penalties for Huntersville gas spill

Colonial Pipeline workers were cleaning up the gas leak last September off Huntersville-Concord Road in Huntersville.
David Boraks
Colonial Pipeline workers cleaned up a gasoline spill in September 2020 off Huntersville-Concord Road in Huntersville.

Colonial Pipeline has agreed to pay the state of North Carolina nearly $5 million in penalties and to provide additional data and cleanup plans for a massive gasoline spill in Huntersville two years ago.

The deal would settle a state court lawsuit against Colonial by the Department of Environmental Quality.

Colonial says 1.47 million gallons of gasoline spilled when a previous repair on the pipeline broke in August 2020 in Mecklenburg County's Oehler Nature Preserve, about 2 miles east of downtown Huntersville. The current estimate is significantly more than initial estimates in the months following the pipeline break.

State officials describe it as the largest spill on land in the U.S.

“The Consent Order requires Colonial to meet its obligations to the communities impacted by the release, starting with an accurate accounting of the spill volume,” DEQ Secretary Elizabeth Biser said in a statement. “This release is on track to be the largest onshore spill in our nation’s history and the order holds Colonial accountable for the necessary cleanup to restore the environment.”

The state sued Colonial last Novemberin Mecklenburg County Superior Court alleging that the company broke the law by failing to provide updates on the size and extent of the spill.

The proposed settlement calls for a civil penalty of $4.5 million. It would require Colonial to pay $250,000 for investigative costs plus additional penalties if it fails to meet the terms of the settlement. DEQ says any civil penalties by law go to the state’s education fund.

The order would require Colonial to update modeling describing the extent of the gasoline leak and contamination. It also requires:

  • Quarterly testing for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a class of long-lasting and potentially dangerous industrial chemicals found at the site. 
  • Additional wells to test for gasoline in bedrock. 
  • Monthly testing and reports on surface water quality.
  • A Corrective Action Plan and proposed schedule for completing it.

The settlement still needs court approval. If the court decides to call for a hearing on the order, it would be July 26, according to DEQ.
In a statement, Colonial says it's committed to protecting public health and safety and cleaning up remaining gasoline.

After the spill, Colonial hired an outside firm to test private well water near the site. The company has said no contamination has been detected.

Colonial operates a 5,500-mile pipeline network from Texas to New Jersey.

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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.