By far, the spill last August was the largest single gasoline spill, nationwide, since 2000. For comparison, between 2000 and 2019, the amount of gasoline spillage by all companies—in 2571 spills—was 14.8 million gallons. During that period of time, Colonial was responsible for 272 of those spills, with a loss of 920,628 gallons. The cost of clean-up of spills incurred by Colonial was $168.8 million.
According to NC Policy Watch, over time, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has collected a mere $448,000 from Colonial for its spills. This is despite a civil penalty of $34 million assessed to Colonial by EPA, as well as $606,700 in fines that FERC has assessed toward Colonial since 1993.
In August 2020, shortly after the spill was discovered, Colonial estimated the fuel loss to be 63,000 gallons from the ruptured pipeline. By September, the North Carolina Department of Environmental quality Secretary Michael Regan, upped that number to 273,000 gallons. In November 2020, the spill was revised to 354,060 gallons. By January, 2021, regulators revised that number even further to almost 1.2 million gallons—18 times greater than what Colonial had originally reported.
On February 24, 2021, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) issued a Notice of Continuing Violation to Colonial, critical of the company’s insufficiencies in their Comprehensive Site Assessment that made determining the full impact of the spill.
By April 12th, 2021 Colonial asserted that it had recovered 24,512 barrels (1,029,504 gallons) of what they think were 28,571 barrels (1.2 million gallons) of fuel that leaked on to the site. They say that the volume recovered is approximately 85% of what was spilled and consider that the remediation plan is “working as designed.” To aid in the remediation process, Colonial has also purchased three properties across the road from the spill site. They are using a combination of 56 recovery wells and 84 monitoring wells—in 140 in total, and expect to remain on the site “for years” as its wells continue to withdraw gasoline.
And on April 19, 2021, Colonial indicated that the spill estimate of 1.2 million gallons may be revised upward, yet again because of additional fuel found in deeper pockets in the soil, although they have not yet provided value. Media have speculated that the number may be considerably higher than the 1.2 million gallons. Already, gasoline has been detected through monitoring more than 550 feet from the leak site.
Despite receiving deadlines from NCDEQ about providing estimates for the spill by the end of April, Colonial did not meet that goal. Colonial did submit a 1640-page document on April 26, 2021 that many other parameters (including the amount of product that had recovered), but no estimates of the spill beyond the 1.2 million gallons they reported according to a March 4, 2021 calculation.
Consequently, on May 5, 2021, NCDEQ issued an additional Notice of Continuing Violation to Colonial. This time, Colonial is required to provide revised estimates of the total volume spilled, by May 28, 2021.
Huntersville mayor John Anarella indicated in an interview on WSOC-TV that that Colonial’s monitoring system didn’t even register the leak, which may have gone undetected for days, if not weeks. In fact, leak detection systems for pipelines in rural areas will not even become required by law until 2025. Nor has the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) set standards for what a detection system would entail.