Environment

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.
News

Trump lawyer Stefan Passantino is attorney for company that tried to infiltrate NC voter groups

Stefan Passantino (MichaelBest.com)

Blue Sky Med Labs, whose “business partner” James Fortune, tried to infiltrate voting rights groups in North Carolina, is directly linked to a former Trump administration official, an Atlanta TV station reported yesterday.

Policy Watch reported last week that Blue Sky Med Labs of Roswell, Ga., had wired two payments, $3,000 and $1,500, to Democracy North Carolina. Using similar tactics to the far-right group Project Veritas, Fortune had met with several North Carolina voting rights groups and appeared to try to entrap them into breaking election laws. Fortune claimed that he planned to open a gym in North Carolina and that Blue Sky Med Labs was his business partner.

Dale Russell, a journalist with Fox5, reported that the attorney for Blue Sky Med Labs is Stefan Passantino, the former deputy White House Counsel for Ethics Policy under Donald Trump. He left the Trump administration in 2018, but was subsequently hired by the Trump Organization in January 2019 to help deal with the onslaught of Democratic inquiries into the president’s business interests.

Passantino also is among top officials for “Lawyers for Trump,” a coalition that claims to “protect the integrity” of November’s vote.

Policy Watch previously reported on Passantino’s connections to the White House and various right-wing political operatives in Georgia, including political consultant Rick Thompson. Thompson confirmed to Fox5 that Passantino was the attorney for Blue Sky Med Labs.

Thompson is also a member of the Georgia Ethics Commission.

Fox5 reported that Passantino is out of the country and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Passantino is now an attorney with the firm Michael Best & Friedrich, where he leads the political law practice. That firm is headed by former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.

Passantino’s biography on the firm’s website states he has “provided Congressional and Executive Branch ethics and lobbying training to members of Congress, their staff, the administration, and private corporations for over 15 years.”

He also has represented “major multi-national corporations, tax-exempt advocacy groups, political parties, and politicians, including serving as national counsel to presidential candidate and former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich, former Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, former Gov. Rick Perry, several U.S. Senators and House Members, as well as other prominent political figures and advocacy groups.”

Environment, Governor Roy Cooper

Sen. Tillis says Trump will now extend offshore drilling moratorium to NC

In 2018, coastal residents packed a hearing and rally in opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

In a struggle to defend his incumbency, Sen. Thom Tillis announced on his website yesterday that he had spoken with President Donald Trump and “was informed that North Carolina will be included in a Presidential Memorandum” banning offshore drilling for 10 years. The moratorium would be in effect from July 1, 2022, to June 30, 2032.

On his Senate website, Tillis noted he had “urged” President Trump to extend  the moratorium to North Carolina.

The White House has not formally announced North Carolina’s inclusion in the moratorium.

Earlier this month, in what was tantamount to a political snub, Trump reinstated an offshore drilling moratorium for Florida, Georgia and South Carolina — but no North Carolina. The other Southeastern states included in the moratorium have Republican governors.

Trump also needs those states to win the election, and polling has showed voters there overwhelmingly oppose drilling off their respective states’ coasts.

Tillis also needs to galvanize support for his political campaign. An average of all polls taken in North Carolina show Tillis and Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham in a tie. However, results of a CBS 17/Emerson College poll published yesterday show Cunningham ahead 48.9% to 43%.

As for offshore drilling, Gov. Cooper’s administration has consistently opposed the prospect of that activity off the coast. The NC Department of Environmental Quality denied WesternGeco’s request to conduct offshore seismic testing, but was overruled by the US Department of Commerce.

Attorney General Josh Stein recently announced his office had filed suit against the federal Commerce Department over the WesternGeco approval.

WesternGeco subsequently withdrew its federal application. Four other companies have applied to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management to conduct the testing.

North Carolina environmental groups ranging from the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and Oceana, were cautiously optimistic about Tillis’s announcement.

“If this is true, we welcome the withdrawal of North Carolina from offshore drilling for 10 years,” said Randy Sturgill, Oceana Action senior campaign organizer, for the Southeast region. “With this action, President Trump acknowledges overwhelming opposition from North Carolina’s communities, businesses and bipartisan elected officials.

“Of course, it was the President’s own plan that threatened our state in the first place. Other East and West Coast states remain on the table for expanded drilling and deserve the same protections. What President Trump deems good enough for North Carolina and Florida should be good enough for other states, too. It’s time for the President to permanently protect our coasts and formally withdraw his entire radical offshore drilling plan.”

Environment

Breaking: Coal ash released after sinkhole collapse in Mooresville

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.

Coal ash from a structural fill site entered an unnamed stream after a sinkhole formed in Mooresville, state regulators announced today.

The sinkhole was in a parking lot built on top of a coal ash structural fill site off NC Highway 150. The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality did not specify which fill site was affected, but state records show a previous sinkhole in a parking lot of the Terry K Smith Highway 150 project.

This site contains 45,833 tons of coal ash, sourced from Duke Energy’s Marshall Steam Station, located on nearby Lake Norman.

DEQ said in a press release that a stream culvert pipe collapsed under a coal ash structural fill during heavy rains on Thursday, Sept. 17, that caused a previously repaired sinkhole in a parking lot to reopen.

The orange square represents the Terry K Smith Highway 150 project in Mooresville. A sinkhole opened in a parking near Highway 150, which released coal ash from a structural fill site into an unnamed stream. (Map DEQ)

DEQ said it has been monitoring the sinkhole since becoming aware of it during a site inspection in July of 2019. The property owner had previously repaired the sinkhole in 2018 and 2019.

During site visits after the storm, sediment containing coal ash was observed in the stream bed of the unnamed tributary where it emerges south of Highway 150.

DEQ staff collected water quality samples from the stream and is conducting ongoing monitoring. The location is in the area of a state Department of Transportation expansion project, and DEQ has discussed necessary next steps with the property owner and NCDOT.  DEQ also alerted county and state emergency management authorities.

There are dozens of known coal ash structural fill sites in North Carolina, and more that have been reported but not documented.

 

 

Environment

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.