DEQ: Colonial Pipeline leaked 2M gallons in Huntersville; largest onshore fuel spill in US

The Colonial Pipeline Company has submitted a new number raising the estimated amount of oil that was released in a 2020 spill in Mecklenburg County.

In a document submitted on July 22, Colonial estimates 2 million gallons of fuel were released in the Oehler Nature Preserve near Huntersville, making it the largest onshore fuel spill in the nation. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing the updated volume estimate, it said.

As of July 13, Colonial reported nearly 1.4 million gallons of free product have been recovered, the DQ said.

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Immediately after the leak, Colonial Pipeline estimated that 63,000 gallons had leaked in one of its underground lines along Huntersville-Concord Road near Asbury Chapel Road.

Two teens discovered the spill on Aug. 14, 2020 while they were riding ATVs in the nature preserve. The leak, which Colonial Pipeline said was due to failed equipment, started in a massive pipe underneath part of the preserve.

“It was just bubbling out of the ground like a fire hydrant would,” Owen Fehr told Channel 9.

The pipe carries gas from the Gulf of Mexico up through the East Coast.


In early July, the Mecklenburg County Superior Court approved a consent order that required the company to provide an updated estimate of the volume of gasoline released within 30 days. The order also requires the company to take specific remedial actions and pay nearly $5 million in penalties and investigative costs, according to the DEQ.

Colonial has operated in North Carolina since the late 1950s, according to NC Policy Watch. The outlet also said the company has had over two dozen reported incidents, which include three leaks in Kannapolis -- one as recent as 2015.

In 1996, a million gallons of fuel spilled into South Carolina’s Reedy River, according to NC Policy Watch. It was one of the biggest environmental disasters in the state’s history. Colonial pleaded guilty to criminal negligence, was fined $41 million dollars and paid $13 million in settlements. The company has also had spills in Alabama and safety and training violations in multiple states.


A Colonial Pipeline spokesperson sent the following statement to Channel 9 in response to the new estimate:

“As part of our recent consent order with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, Colonial Pipeline is required to provide an updated released volume estimate within 30 days of the final agreement.

“Since this release was first identified on August 14, 2020, Colonial Pipeline has remained steadfast in our commitment to recovering free product while protecting human health and the environment. Our work at this location over the past two years has been guided by science and engineering – principles that will be foundational to our efforts as product recovery and environmental remediation advance.

“Working closely with state regulators on the recovery and response effort has been a priority for Colonial, and we are pleased to have reached an agreement with the state to provide the released volume estimate and the methodology used to arrive at this updated estimate. Following extensive operational data collection and analysis, Colonial determined July 27, 2020, as the start date of this release. This date was validated by a third-party expert and allowed us to further analyze the operational data to estimate an updated estimated released volume.

“Colonial has recovered more than 35,500 barrels to date, and we now estimate the released volume to be ~47,600 barrels (2 million gallons). Our commitment to product recovery is evidenced by the volume recovered to date, which is approximately 75% of the updated release estimate. We will be here for as long as it takes to remediate the location.

“While the estimated released volume has been updated, the extensive 385-plus subsurface monitoring and recovery well network we have in place is working as designed. Data also confirms product remains in the general vicinity of the release area and ongoing testing (in place since August 2020) has confirmed no impacts to water supply wells.

“As part of holding ourselves accountable, we have applied lessons learned from this event across our operations. For example, following the event in August 2020, we identified segments of our mainlines with previous repairs similar to the type at Huntersville (called a segmented Type A sleeve) and converted them all to pressure-containing Type B Sleeves. In each of these conversions, no petroleum product was observed in the soil. The total cost of measures regarding Type A sleeve conversions (including both stacked and segmented Type A Sleeves) means a proactive investment of more than $50 million.

“Colonial Pipeline remains committed to working closely with NCDEQ, county and community leaders as recovery efforts move forward. We deeply appreciate the patience of this community, and we will continue to work to earn back their trust through our actions on the ground.”

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