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Colonial Pipeline buying more land near massive gasoline spill in Huntersville

Colonial Pipeline has bought yet more property in Huntersville, near the site of North Carolina’s largest gasoline spill in history — 25.8 acres for nearly $1.7 million, according to Mecklenburg County real estate records.

This brings the total spent by the company on property buyouts near the spill site to roughly $2.5 million.

The purchase, which occurred in September, includes land, a house and a barn on Huntersville-Concord Road, just feet from the Oehler Nature Preserve, where a pipeline leak discharged at least 1.3 million gallons of gasoline into the groundwater in August 2020.

Robbie Jaeger first reported the transaction on PolitiFi.

The properties lie within the groundwater monitoring zone. High levels of benzene, xylene, toluene and other petroleum-related chemicals have been found in monitoring wells at the site.

The accident occurred Aug. 14, 2020, when a portion of the pipeline broke, releasing the gasoline. It is unclear how long the pipeline had been leaking; two teenage boys riding ATVs saw gasoline gurgling from beneath the ground and reported it to their parents, who notified the authorities.

Colonial Pipeline says no drinking water wells have been contaminated; however, state environmental officials have directed the company to extend residential private well sampling radius an additional 500 feet, to 2,000 feet from the spill site. Petroleum contamination has been found beneath the water table.

These are the latest acquisitions by Colonial, which began buying out private landowners a year ago. At that time, the company had bought three houses and their acreage near the spill site for nearly $1 million.

“In anticipation of additional work related to the ongoing assessment and remediation activities, Colonial has worked with some landowners to purchase property in the area of the release site,” a Colonial spokesperson wrote in an email at the time. “This will provide us with a safe workspace to support those operations and minimize inconvenience to those living in close proximity to the location.”

This is part of the property along Huntersville-Concord Road that Colonial Pipeline purchased in September. The company bought another three acres and a house near the same tract. Colonial staging area for its monitoring and cleanup operations are in the background. (Photo: Google Streetview, June 2021)

Last week the NC Department of Environmental Quality took legal action against Colonial in Mecklenburg Superior Court. State officials alleged that the company is “failing to meet their obligations” in its clean up of the spill, the nation’s largest such onshore accident since 1991.

According to the complaint, Colonial has failed to provide DEQ with “essential information required for appropriate remediation at the site.” This includes an accurate estimate of the amount of fuel that was released into the environment; nor has Colonial fully investigated the extent of PFAS contamination at the site, which is thought to be the result of material applied to the gasoline to keep it from igniting shortly after the spill.

Nor is Colonial fully using hydraulic control wells at the spill site. That could allow the petroleum contamination to spread beyond the 11 acres currently documented.

DEQ is asking the court to force Colonial to comply with the state’s requests.

The pipeline traveled directly beneath the property recently purchased by Colonial (Map: DEQ reports)

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