Colonial spill prompts bill that would require DEQ to study potential public health, environmental effects of gasoline pipelines

A map of the US showing the gas transmission and hazardous liquid pipelines; the Colonial Pipeline enters North Carolina near Charlotte and proceeds northeast through the Piedmont.

The Colonial Pipeline enters North Carolina south of Charlotte, represented by a red line on this map, and travels northeast through the western Piedmont before entering Virginia. (Map: National Pipeline Mapping System)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality would receive $200,000 to study the “condition, safety and environmental impact” of pipelines that transport petroleum through or within the state, according to a bill filed yesterday.

Democratic Sen. Natasha Marcus filed SB 459 in response to the nation’s largest gasoline spill in two decades, which occurred last August in Huntersville, part of the senator’s district. Colonial Pipeline is responsible for the incident, which released 1.2 million gallons of gasoline in the Oehler Nature Preserve and near several residential neighborhoods.

No drinking water wells have reportedly been affected, according to Colonial, but the groundwater is heavily contaminated with chemicals found in gasoline, such as benzene.

The pipeline is part of a 5,500-mile route that extends from Texas to New Jersey; it passes through several counties in southern and west-central North Carolina. The spill was Colonial’s 32nd in the state since 2000, according to federal safety records. The cleanup in Huntersville is ongoing, and will likely take years, if not decades.

Just last week the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration issued a Notice of Proposed Safety Order saying “conditions may exist on the Colonial Pipeline System that pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property or the environment. The conditions that led to the failure potentially exist throughout the Colonial Pipeline system.”   

Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat representing Huntersville. (Photo: NCGA)

Sen. Marcus said in a press release: “We cannot allow a tragic mess like this to happen again. Our state can and should monitor aging hazardous liquid pipelines, rather than rely solely on the pipeline company and the federal government to be our watchdogs. My bill calls on the NC DEQ to study what can be done at the state level to protect us in the future.”  

At the end of the two-year study DEQ would report its findings and recommendations to the Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy.

“This bill will give NC DEQ the resources it needs to look out for our health and safety in light of the risks posed by aging hazardous liquid pipelines.  For starters, I believe residents find it unacceptable that the state does not currently monitor such pipelines for leaks. We need to change that.” 

The NC Utilities Commission has a Natural Gas Pipeline Safety Section that inspects and monitors natural gas pipeline systems operating in North Carolina. However, the section’s authority doesn’t extend to petroleum pipelines.

 

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