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.

 

The best editorial of the weekend: What wind power could do for NC (and the planet)

Photo: Getty Images

If you missed it, be sure to check out the lead weekend editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer“Strong winds off the coast could power a clean energy economy in North Carolina.” As the authors explain, it’s long past time for us to move aggressively to make use of North Carolina’s plentiful offshore winds to create sustainable energy and good jobs.

This from the editorial:

Building offshore wind turbines would help slow climate change and would also decrease environmental damage by reducing the dirty process of extracting and transporting fossil fuels. Just last August, a pipeline breach spilled about 1.2 million gallons of gasoline near Huntersville. Duke Energy customers will be paying for years to help clean out the utility’s coal ash pits.

…Beyond its environmental benefits, wind power could also bring strong economic gains not only in construction and maintenance, but in manufacturing of turbines. The Department of Commerce report said North Carolina’s manufacturing sector could develop coastal factories to make wind turbine towers and blades that are so large they can only be transported by water.

“Wind energy means new jobs for North Carolinians,” said Machelle Sanders, North Carolina’s commerce secretary. “Just like biotechnology was for us many years ago, today clean energy represents an industry of the future and North Carolina always embraces the future.”

And happily, the Biden administrations is fully on board with such a plan. Last week, it unveiled an ambitious plan to dramatically ramp up the nation’s development of offshore wind energy.
Of course, no solution is perfect and wind energy development won’t come without foul-ups and negative impacts, it’s a vastly superior to the Trump administration’s horrific idea of filling the east coast with offshore oil platforms. Again, here’s the N&O:
There are also legitimate concerns about how building and operating the massive offshore turbines could affect the fishing industry, wildlife, military flights and tourism. These concerns should be addressed in consultation with stakeholders.
Though not yet a sure thing for North Carolina, wind power is much closer to becoming one. There’s no doubt about where the pursuit of more clean energy should go next. Go where the wind blows.
Click here to read the entire editorial.

Chemours fined nearly $200,000 by DEQ for environmental violations

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has fined Chemours $198,929.16 for various environmental violations, including the company’s failure to comply with several conditions of a 2019 consent order, the agency announced this afternoon.

The consent order required Chemours to install several upgrades at its Fayetteville Works plant, including a wastewater treatment system to prevent residual contamination from GenX and other perfluorinated compounds from entering the Cape Fear River.

However, the treatment system, which began operating at old Outfall 002 last September, was inadequately designed and at times DEQ has demanded payment of $127,000 in stipulated penalties because the system didn’t consistently meet the requirements of the consent order. The terms of the consent order assessed penalties ranging from $1,000 to $2,000 a day; DEQ calculated that Chemours had violated the order for at least 67 days last fall.

Chemours has reconfigured the treatment system several times since last September. The treatment system at Old Outfall 002 is currently working as intended to remove PFAS from the contaminated stream channel before it reaches the river, DEQ said in a press release. DEQ continues to monitor the performance of the treatment system to verify that the design improvements are sufficient to ensure ongoing compliance with the Consent Order.

Several divisions within DEQ assessed additional penalties:

The NPDES permit is limited to treatment of the contaminated stream waters at Old Outfall 002.  Since 2017, Chemours has been and is still prohibited from discharging process wastewater. The company transports that contaminated water for disposal in Texas and Arkansas.

The in-stream treatment cell at Seep C is one of four interim treatment measures required under the Addendum to the Consent Order to address contaminated groundwater reaching the river. Additional seep treatment locations are scheduled to be completed by April 2021.

“DEQ is committed to protecting communities and their water quality and ensuring that Chemours meets all its requirements and obligations, including those under the Consent Order to prevent PFAS from entering the Cape Fear River,” said Secretary Dionne Delli-Gatti. “We will take all appropriate enforcement actions, whenever they fall short of those obligations.”

After Huntersville gasoline spill investigation, feds say Colonial Pipeline’s entire 5,500-mile route could pose public safety, environmental risks

The Colonial Pipeline system runs 5,500 miles from Houston, Texas, to Linden, N.J. Last August, the largest onshore gasoline spill in the U.S. since 1997 occurred in Huntersville, just north of Charlotte. (Map: Colonial)

Federal investigators have warned Colonial Pipeline that because of poor operational procedures, the company’s entire 5,500-mile pipeline could jeopardize public safety, property or the environment.

A 1.2 million-gallon gasoline spill in Huntersville, which occurred last summer, prompted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to investigate Colonial’s operation and maintenance systems. Problems identified in the Huntersville spill potentially exist throughout the Colonial Pipeline system, the PHMSA wrote.

In the nine-page Notice of Proposed Safety Order issued March 29, the PHMSA warned Colonial that it must “take measures” to reduce the potential risk.

“The conditions that led to the failure potentially exist throughout the Colonial Pipeline System. Further Colonial’s inability to effectively detect and respond to this release, as well as other past releases, has potentially exacerbated the impacts of this and numerous other failures over the operational history of colonial’s entire system.  … it appears that the continued operation of the Colonial Pipeline system without corrective measures would pose a pipeline integrity risk to public safety, property or the environment.”

E&E News published details of the report yesterday.

A Colonial Pipeline spokesman provided a statement to Policy Watch:
“We are reviewing this notice and will respond as requested by PHMSA … Colonial began seeking to implement learnings from the Huntersville incident almost immediately after it occurred. This included identifying sections of pipe with potentially similar conditions and excavating, evaluating and in some cases enhancing those pipe segments. Colonial also has leak detection systems currently in place on each of its pipelines that meet, and in some cases exceed, current regulatory requirements. We will continue to learn from this event and apply those lessons learned to our overall operations.”

Colonial Pipeline starts near Houston, Texas, and runs northeast through several Southern and mid-Atlantic states, including North Carolina, before ending in New Jersey. Branches of the pipeline also extend into Tennessee. The system delivers an average of 100 million gallons of liquid petroleum products, including gasoline and jet fuel, each day.

Federal investigators found that corrosion caused a crack in the pipeline in Huntersville. In turn, gasoline escaped from the breach, even though the  pressure was low: just 183 pounds per square in gauge, far below the maximum operating pressure of 673 pounds per square in gauge. Colonial uses an advanced automatic leak detection system on some positions of its pipeline, but not on Line 1, which runs though Huntersville.

The Huntersville spill, the largest onshore accident of its type in U.S. history since 1997, is only one of several accidents that have occurred in the last five years. The federal investigation noted that cracks and corrosion in the pipeline, as well as inadequate repair, caused those spills, ranging from 1,000 gallons to 309,000 gallons.

The PHMSA told Colonial that within 90 days it must submit a written plan to evaluate the effectiveness of the leak detection system throughout the 5,500-mile route. The company then must recommend how to fix the weaknesses in that system. Similar analyses are required for pipeline repairs, inspections, and considerations for “High Consequence Areas,” which are near neighborhoods, schools, hospitals and other highly populated areas.

The PHMSA must approve Colonial’s plan and its proposed timeline to do the work.

Policy Watch reported yesterday on questions about how toxic perfluorinated compounds — PFAS — wound up at the Huntersville gasoline spill. Colonial said the fire suppressant it used contained no PFAS, and that cross-contamination from an unknown source is likely responsible. The company excavated soil where the suppressant was sprayed and transported it to a lined landfill at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. State environmental regulators have asked Colonial for more data to support their contention no PFAS entered the environment.

Gov. Cooper proposes $145 million budget for DEQ, would include money to address climate change, PFAS in drinking water

These are the historical expenditures for the NC Department of Environmental Quality. The 2015-2016 figures reflect the McCrory administration’s shift of some divisions from DEQ to the state Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. (Source: Gov. Cooper’s budget)

The NC Department of Environmental Quality would receive $145 million in appropriations in 2021-22 under Gov. Roy Cooper’s new budget proposal, a 52% increase from his 2019 recommendations.

Under the governor’s proposal, in 2022-23 the department would receive $133 million.

This money includes salaries for 58 additional full-time positions.

DEQ would get a $3.3 million infusion to tackle the persistent of emerging compounds, such as PFAS and 1,4-Dioxane, in drinking water. The money would pay for 26 positions — chemists, hydrogeologists and engineers — to help contain these contaminant where no financially viable party can be located. A portion of the money would pay for alternative drinking water supplies to eligible people affected by emerging compounds.

Cooper’s staff presented his comprehensive $27.4 billion budget recommendation to lawmakers yesterday.

Many of the governor’s latest budget recommendations for DEQ address the existential crisis of climate change. Funding in Year 1 of the biennium includes $180,000 for additional coastal resilience staff, $35 million for flood mitigation and other water infrastructure projects, $369,000 for  landslide mapping and $255,000 for three new positions to help swine farmers manage their wastewater and comply with the law.

With in the Department of Agriculture budget, Cooper has recommended $9 million be appropriated each year for the swine farm buyout program. This voluntary program pays swine farmers to place easements on their land if their operations are in the 100-year floodplain. Demand for the program has outstripped funding.

Nearly $70 million from a separate Energy & Environment Reserve would pay for clean energy programs, including those that would help local governments and schools with energy efficiency, renewable energy and a transition to zero-emission school buses, which currently run on highly polluting diesel fuel.

It’s unlikely that DEQ will receive the full funding as recommended by the governor. For more than a decade, state lawmakers have slashed the agency’s budget and workforce. In 2019-20, Cooper proposed a $95 million base budget for DEQ; the legislature approved about $80 million.

This is just the first step in the months-long and fraught budget process. The legislature drafts its own proposals, which are typically amended dozens of times. House and Senate leadership appoint members to a budget conference committee that negotiates on a final draft for a vote by both chambers.

Gov. Cooper can also veto the legislation, which he did in 2019, objecting to a lack of adequate funding for schools and health care. That year, the legislature overrode the veto.