Toothpaste goes back in the tube: Duke, Dominion propose restoration plan for former Atlantic Coast Pipeline route

Portions of Donovan McLaurin’s property in Cumberland County, near Wade, had been excavated and clearcut to make way for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Environmental restoration along the route of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is scheduled to begin this year, including in North Carolina, according to federal filings by the utilities.

Although Duke and Dominion canceled the $8 billion natural gas project last summer, contractors for the utilities had timbered and excavated public and private land along portions of the 600-mile route, even leaving pipeline segments on farm fields.

Had the ACP been built, it would have routed through more than 160 miles of eastern North Carolina, including tribal lands and communities of color. Policy Watch reported last year that areas of Northampton, Halifax, Nash and Cumberland counties had been carved up and clear cut to make way for the project.

The plan includes major restoration on land for the now-defunct compressor station in Northampton County, near the Virginia state line. The plan includes filling trenches and excavated areas, removing storage containers and trailers, as well as spreading topsoil, seed and mulch on some areas. Pipe that has been installed, such as under the Tar River in Nash County, will be left in place because “there would be more environmental disturbance if we were to remove the pipe,” a Duke Energy spokesperson told Policy Watch last summer.

A letter from the utilities to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said that installed pipe will be abandoned in place; some easement agreements on private land will need modified to allow for the pipe to remain.  Felled trees could be left in place or removed, depending on the level of disturbance to habitats.

The Smithfield metering and regulation station would be left as-is because it had been fully built out. (Photo: FERC filings)

A metering and regulation station in Smithfield would be left as is; the site was fully built out. In Fayetteville, that infrastructure had not yet been installed but the land had been prepped for construction with timber mats — essentially a path of cut logs — and fencing. Both will be removed. Topsoil, seed and mulch will be spread on the right-of-way where the pipeline would have been installed. The proposed Pembroke site in Robeson County had the least amount of disturbance, an only a silt fence needs removed.

Restoration plans will be submitted to the NC Department of Environmental Quality in late May, while the US Fish and Wildlife Service weighs in on a biological assessment.

If the plan proceeds as scheduled, clean up and restoration will begin in November and continue through April 2022. The disrupted areas will be seeded and mulched in 2022, with monitoring and maintenance occurring from December 2021 through June of 2023.

FERC is reviewing the utilities’ proposal and could be finished as early as mid-February; the US Army Corps of Engineers must also issue any permits for activities that would affect waterways and wetlands.

Colonial Pipeline “significantly underestimated” amount of gasoline spilled in Huntersville

 

The Colonial Pipeline transports gasoline and other petroleum products from Texas to New Jersey; the route runs through part of North Carolina. (Map: Colonial Pipeline)

During a major spill in August, Colonial Pipeline released more gasoline into the environment than the company originally reported, the NC Department of Environmental Quality announced today. However, Colonial has not yet provided a new estimate.

From DEQ today:

Based on current information, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality has determined that Colonial Pipeline has significantly underestimated the volume of gasoline released from the Aug. 14, 2020, spill in Mecklenburg County’s Oehler Nature Preserve near Huntersville’s town limits.

Colonial Pipeline estimated 272,580 gallons of product lost; however, the semi-weekly report provided on Tuesday, Nov. 3, indicates 267,313 gallons have been recovered so far. The amount and continued rate of free product recovery, along with other data submitted by Colonial Pipeline, indicate that the spill is significantly larger than initially reported. Colonial Pipeline has not provided a new estimated release volume. DEQ is requiring Colonial to recalculate the estimated release, and they will verify with a third-party consultant.

Since the spill was reported, DEQ has required Colonial Pipeline to take all appropriate actions to protect the community and will continue to do so throughout the cleanup process. Efforts underway include the sampling of drinking water wells, installation of monitoring and recovery wells and recovery/removal of gasoline.

At this time, the horizontal extent or boundary of the free product area has been defined, and monitoring wells have been installed around that perimeter to monitor for any further migration. Colonial Pipeline has installed pumps in the wells within the free product area and is actively recovering approximately 3,000 to 5,000 gallons of gasoline per day.”

As Policy Watch previously reported, Colonial has not been transparent about the severity of the spill, which occurred near several residential neighborhoods. DEQ has cited the company for groundwater violations, including levels of benzene, a known carcinogen.

The company has attributed the spill to a breach in a section of 42-year-old pipeline.

A 90-day accident report is due to federal and state regulators by Nov. 14.

DEQ cites Colonial Pipeline for gasoline spill, material includes cancer-causing chemicals

Colonial Pipeline ships gasoline and other petroleum through a 5,500-mile pipeline through the Southeast en route to New Jersey. (Map: Colonial Pipeline)

The cancer-causing compound benzene has been detected in groundwater  from an Aug. 14 gasoline spill in Huntersville, prompted state regulators to cite Colonial Pipeline, which is responsible for the accident.

The NC Department of Environmental Quality announced today that it has issued a notice of violation for impacts to groundwater as a result of the 273,000-gallon spill. So far, DEQ has not fined the company, but wrote in the citation that it could assess civil penalties in the future.

Other chemicals detected in groundwater are xylene, toluene and ethylbenzene. Ethylbenzene exposure has also been linked to cancer, according to federal health officials. Depending on the dose and length of exposure, all four chemicals can harm the neurological system.

Neighbors of the spill have been concerned in particular about benzene in the groundwater. At a community meeting in Huntersville earlier this month, a Colonial Pipeline representative dodged questions about whether benzene was among the contaminants. The representative, Greg Glaze, told attendees that the gasoline was the “same that goes in your car.”

“Out of an abundance of caution,” DEQ said it has also directed that Colonial Pipeline sample its onsite monitoring wells for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, because the material that was used to minimize flammable vapors was found to contain PFAS compounds.

DEQ has also determined that “the risk posed by the discharge or release at the subject site is high.”

Colonial is testing drinking water wells within 1,500 feet of the spill, which occurred off Huntersville-Concord Road in the Oehler Nature Preserve. So far, the company has reported no petroleum detections in the drinking water wells, but the groundwater and soil is contaminated.

Colonial Pipeline has estimated that 96,557 gallons of the gasoline — or just a third of the estimated total — has been recovered.

The cause of the spill was a break in a portion of the 42-year-old pipeline that had been previously repaired in 2004, according to Colonial’s required 30-day report to federal regulators. Two 15-year-old boys riding ATVs in the Oehler Nature Preserve discovered the spill.

DEQ is requiring Colonial to take other remedial action:

  • Restore groundwater quality to the standards protective of human health and the environment;
  • Submit detailed reports monthly that include soil sampling, surface water and water supply well sampling results, groundwater flow, public water system hook-ups for residents, status of free product recovery efforts, and soil excavation, transportation and disposal records.; and
  • Submit a Comprehensive Site Assessment report by Jan. 20, 2021.

DEQ required Dominion to pay $1.5 million for potential, actual damage from Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The circled area shows the general areas of sub-basins that are eligible for mitigation projects as part of the now-canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline. (Map: DEQ)

Dominion Energy paid more than $1.5 million to the NC Department of Environmental Quality to offset potential and actual damage from the construction and operation of the now-defunct Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The payment, made in February 2018 to the Division of Mitigation Services, was part of a state program for impacts to water quality and stream and river buffers.

Both state and federal regulators require developers to pay a third-party or conduct mitigation themselves if their projects unavoidably damage waterways or buffers.

Under the state’s in-lieu fee mitigation program, a state agency like DMS, or a nonprofit organization, sells credits to developers, in this case, Dominion. The payment is required in advance of construction, and DMS or the nonprofit is responsible for the mitigation project’s success. In some instances, the developer chooses to hire a contractor and pay for its own mitigation.

Just under half of the funds Dominion paid to DMS — $719,240 — were allocated for buffer projects in Upper Tar River and Fishing Creek sub-basins. This area includes the cities of Rocky Mount, Nashville and Enfield, where the pipeline would have routed.

Another $849,000 was allocated to buffer projects in the Upper Neuse River and Contentnea sub-basins, which include Smithfield, Selma and Wilson, also along the proposed route.

Sub-basinSub-basin acreage, available for projectsFee paid
Upper Tar-Pamlico835,070$369,886
Fishing Creek572,176$349,354
Upper Neuse1,539,932$564,159
Contentnea645,470$284,909

 

A formula determines the number of acres or linear feet that must be mitigated for every acre or linear foot that is impacted. The ratio depends on the type of wetlands or streams the acres or linear feet, and the type of mitigation. Usually the ratio is 2-to-1 or 5-to-1, but can be as high as 10-to-1, in particularly sensitive areas.

DMS then calculates the number of credits a developer must purchase. The value of credits in North Carolina is established by the Environmental Management Commission, and are based on the actual costs of the projects. Currently the rate is $1.16 per credit.

The US Army Corps of Engineers requires impacts to be mitigated within the same watershed. But depending on the availability of public and private land on which to build new wetlands or restore streams, mitigation can occur farther away from the immediate impact. For example, the Upper Neuse River sub basin encompasses 1.4 million acres, and mitigation could legally occur anywhere within it.

However, the state says it targets even smaller sub-watersheds and local watersheds to maximize the benefits as close to the impact as possible. And instead of restoring areas piecemeal, DMS is trying to combine sites into larger, connected tracts to amplify the environmental benefits.

Dominion has not requested a refund. After nine months, refunds apply to canceled projects only if mitigation no longer required, according to DMS policy. The utility could not be reached for comment.

Policy Watch recently reported on the immense damage incurred on private property as a result of the pipeline construction. Waterways and wetlands on that land could be eligible for mitigation.

This money for environmental offsets is unrelated to the governor’s memorandum of understanding with the utility, worth $52 million. That amount was not paid because Dominion and Duke Energy, co-owners of the ACP, canceled the project earlier this year.

Break in previously repaired pipe cause of Colonial Pipeline’s massive gasoline spill

The Southeastern route of the Colonial Pipeline (Map: Colonial Pipeline)

At 42 years old, the pipeline could take no more.

Colonial Pipeline has identified a break in a previously repaired segment of pipe as the cause of a 272,580-gallon gasoline spill in Huntersville in August. Details of the accident were made public in a 30-day report filed with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The leak source originated from beneath a portion of pipe repaired in 2004 as part of an integrity assessment. The pipe had been installed 3 feet below ground.

The pipeline, one of two owned by Colonial transporting petroleum products from Texas to New Jersey, is 40 inches in diameter, with walls three-tenths of an inch thick, coated with coal tar and made by Bethlehem Steel in 1978.

At the time of the spill, the pressure inside the pipeline was 183 pounds per square inch, far below the maximum of 673.

Colonial estimated it will incur costs of at least $10 million, including $2.6 million to clean up and monitor the contaminated groundwater and soil, plus $351,000 in lost gasoline.

Although a remote supervisory control and data acquisition system — SCADA — was operating at the time of the accident, it did not detect or confirm any drop in pressure, the report said. The leak was discovered by two teenagers riding ATVs in the Oehler Nature Preserve, who saw liquid bubbling at the surface of the ground.

Because of the age of the pipeline, there was no computational pipeline monitoring system — CPM — in place that could have detected the leak earlier. Federal law exempts pipelines built before Oct. 1, 2019 from installing CPMs until Oct. 1, 2024.

Policy Watch reported yesterday that Colonial had increased the estimated size of the spill by more than four times — from 63,000 gallons to more than 272,000 gallons, one of the largest gasoline spills in North Carolina history. About half of the product has been recovered. The groundwater and soil have been contaminated, but the size of the underground plume of gasoline has yet to be determined.

The neighborhoods around the spill are on private well water. Although no petroleum products have been detected in residential wells, Colonial has offered to cap some of them and connect the homes to a public water system, plus pay the owners $1,000 for future water bills.

However, landowners have stated publicly that they feel pressured by Colonial to sign the agreements. The contracts, Policy Watch reported, exclude important protections for the landowners.

 



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