Colonial Pipeline cuts deal with federal pipeline officials over Huntersville gasoline spill

Colonial Pipeline contractors have installed monitoring and recovery wells near the spill site. This photo was taken from the back yard of Marc Bellet, who lives nearby. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Colonial Pipeline has signed a consent agreement with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which allows the company to avoid federal civil penalties in connection with a 1.2 million gallon gasoline spill in Huntersville —  the largest onshore fuel spill in the U.S. since 1997.

According to the consent agreement, Colonial “neither admits nor denies any allegation or conclusion” laid out in the document. The consent agreement does not prevent the state from assessing fines or penalties, nor does it immunize the company from third-party litigation or criminal penalties.

The consent agreement was first reported by E&E News and independent journalist Rob Jaeger on Substack.

The consent order stems from the Aug. 14, 2020 incident in Huntersville that has extensively contaminated the groundwater and the soil near homes and in the Oehler Nature Preserve. The cleanup continues, including removing gasoline from the groundwater and excavating soil. Colonial says no drinking water wells have been affected, but the company paid to connect some nearby residents to the public water supply out of caution. The company also purchased three homes near the spill “to minimize the inconvenience” of the cleanup activities, Colonial said at the time.

A leak detection system failed to alert the company of the spill, one of a series of failures over the past five years throughout the Southeast.

In Huntersville, Colonial attributed the spill to a broken “Type A” sleeve repair that was installed in 2004. The sleeve was supposed to protect and reinforce a shallow dent in the pipeline, but over time became weakened by corrosion.

The PHMSA determined earlier this year that the problems with the pipeline in Huntersville were likely present throughout Colonial’s entire 5,500-mile route.

The consent order requires Colonial to submit a remedial work plan within 120 days, including inspections and evaluations of the leak detection system, as well as upgrades. The company must also inventory all of its Type A sleeve repairs and determine whether they need replaced.

“In accordance with our safety management practices, Colonial Pipeline began to implement learnings from the Huntersville incident almost immediately after it occurred,” a Colonial spokesman wrote in a prepared statement. “The consent agreement outlines a number of steps that Colonial has agreed to undertake and we appreciate the opportunity to settle this matter following consultation with PHMSA.”

The NC Department of Environmental Quality has issued a Notice of Continuing Violation to Colonial, requesting more information about the extent and amount of the spill. Colonial has revised its estimates several times, and the 1.2 million gallon figure is likely an underestimate, according to a letter from the company to the Division of Waste Management. A new modeling method shows that “unique geological and hydrogeologic conditions” in the northern part of the spill site shows there is fuel below the water table. That amount has yet to be accounted for in the spill estimates.

To conduct this modeling, the company would need to collect samples in the northern part of the site. But the sampling would need done under “static” conditions, when no other pumping of contaminated groundwater is occurring. In the words, Colonial would have to shut down its recovery wells for several weeks.

Colonial proposes delaying the new sampling so that it can continue to remove the contamination and lessen the risk that it will spread.

There are still questions about how PFAS, also known as perfluorinated compounds, were found in some samples of fire suppressant foam used during an emergency response at the spill site. The manufacture of the suppressant and Colonial say the foam is PFAS-free.

However, stormwater samples taken on Aug. 20 from puddles at the spill and emergency response area  contained several types of the compounds, including PFOSA and others that are found in firefighting foam. All soil and residual water was excavated, removed and shipped to a lined landfill at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, according to a Colonial spokesman.

State Senate budget would fund new DEQ section to address PFAS in drinking water

The state Department of Environmental Quality would receive more than $974,000 to establish a new emerging compounds section, according to the State Senate budget published today. The money would pay for 10 new positions within the Division of Water Resources; it is recurring, which means funding is expected to be renewed each year.

Emerging compounds include PFAS — perfluorinated and polyfluoroalkyl compounds — and 1,4-Dioxane. Both are toxic and have been widely detected in the state’s — and nation’s — water supplies.

The funding is a small part of the department’s overall appropriation of $104.7 million for the 2021-2022 biennium. In 2022-2023, the agency would receive $107.9 million.

The addition of an emerging compounds section marks a reversal in decade-long cuts to personnel within DEQ. The proposed number of full-time equivalent positions is 1,123, up from 1,096 in 2017. However the Senate figure is still 100 positions fewer than what was budgeted for in 2016.

The current budget would create several more positions as part of DEQ’s permit transformation program.

Under the Senate budget, the NC Policy Collaboratory would become permanent. Created in 2016, it harnesses researchers from North Carolina universities to study environmental and public health issues. Its main tasks early on were to conduct research on water quality issues in Jordan Lake, then expanded to PFAS monitoring and removal in drinking water, and more recently COVID-19.

The budget would require the Collaboratory to work with the Office of the State Fire Marshal to track the storage and use of Aqueous Film-Forming Foams, known as AFFF. These foams historically have contained PFAS, which not only jeopardizes the groundwater, but it can cause serious health problems in firefighters who are chronically exposed to the material.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal would report each year to the Environmental Review Commission on the use and inventory of AFFF by fire departments across the state. Information would include the names and addresses of the fire stations; the number of trucks that carry AFFF and the volume; where the foam was used; and the trade names.

People whose private drinking water wells are contaminated with PFAS could also be eligible for public funds to pay for alternative water supplies, regardless of income.

Since 2006, the Bernard Allen Memorial Drinking Water Fund has paid for private well testing in areas with suspected groundwater contamination for low-income households. If contamination is detected, those households can also receive funding to be connected to a public water supply or other alternatives, such as drilling a deeper well or installing a reverse osmosis system.

The income limitation is lifted for households whose water is contaminated with PFAS above the health advisory goals set by the state Department of Health and Human Services or the EPA; that maximum level is currently 70 parts per trillion, although some states have established stricter standards.

Chemours, which is responsible for contaminating private groundwater wells in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin, must pay for testing and alternatives under a consent order; these funds would presumably help cover households whose contamination has not been traced to Chemours.

To accommodate the anticipated demand for testing, the Senate has nearly doubled the Bernard Allen Fund, from $400,000 to $700,000 in nonrecurring funds each biennium.

Frustrated local leaders urge Congress to move faster on regulating PFAS

WASHINGTON—Local officials and community leaders on Wednesday pushed Congress to designate toxic chemicals that are contaminating drinking water as hazardous materials, which would trigger federal cleanup standards.

In addition, two Democratic senators from Michigan, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, introduced legislation that would put additional obligations on the Pentagon to initiate cleanup at military bases.

The chemicals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, can be found in drinking water, soil and air across the country, and are a growing concern.

PFAS are commonly used in commercial products such as nonstick cookware, waterproof clothing, pizza boxes.

The chemicals were also found in firefighting foam used by the Department of Defense and many airports.

Joanne Stanton, the co-founder of the Buxmont Coalition for Safer Water in Pennsylvania, told the U.S. Senate Environment & Public Works Committee that the drinking water and soil in Warminster has been contaminated with PFAS from the firefighting foam used by the Department of Defense at nearby Air Force bases.

“The DOD is one of the largest polluters (of PFAS) in our country,” she said in her opening statement. “It’s ironic that the very entity whose job it is to protect the American people ended up giving a lot of Americans cancer and other diseases because of their irresponsibility in handling toxic chemicals.”

Stanton and James Kenney, the cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Environment Department, told senators they need to classify PFAS as a hazardous substance. That would spark the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), or the Superfund law, to start cleanup of the chemicals at military sites.

“The environmental impacts and economic impacts are real for our state,” Kenney said, adding that contamination threatens the state’s nearly $3 billion agriculture industry as well as its tourism.

New Mexico is suing the Defense Department over PFAS contamination that has spread to several farms.

Kenney also recommended a federal drinking water standard for the chemicals, as there is currently a patchwork of state standards for PFAS.

Only a handful of states have either adopted or proposed maximum contaminant levels for PFAS, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont, New Jersey, New York and North Carolina. Read more

At least 14 sites at Camp Lejeune are likely to be contaminated with PFAS

Marksmanship training, Camp Lejeune, June 27, 2018. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Ashley Gomez)

Like most military bases, Camp Lejeune is a toxic mess.

It is one of 130 current or former military installations on the EPA’s Superfund list that are contaminated with dozens, if not hundreds of pollutants. That list now includes perfluorinated compounds — PFAS.

According to Camp Lejeune’s most recent five-year Superfund review, conducted by the EPA, there are at least 14 sites on base that are likely to have PFAS contamination. These include a firefighting training pit where groundwater levels have been detected at 500 times the EPA’s health advisory goal for drinking water.

However, it could be at least five years — Dec. 31, 2025 — before the Defense Department plans to have completed its evaluation of risks and exposures presented by PFAS contamination. A cleanup will likely take decades.

The sources of the PFAS are varied: industrial wastewater sludge, fire stations, the site of an Osprey helicopter crash, where PFAS-contaminated firefighting foam was used; the Camp Geiger Dump, which is near a former trailer park. The Department of Defense says no PFAS have been detected in drinking water above regulatory guidelines.

(In a separate issue, the EPA last week denied a petition filed by several citizens’ groups, including four in North Carolina, to require Chemours to fund independent scientific testing of 54 types of PFAS — a fraction of the 5,000-plus that are either in use, or have been, but phased out. The EPA responded that the groups did not provide “the facts necessary” that information and testing so far are insufficient.)

Here are some numbers about the PFAS contamination on base:

14 — Minimum number of sites at Camp Lejeune where there have been potential PFAS releases
7 — Minimum number of sites contaminated by firefighting foam that contained PFAS
7 — Minimum number of sites where PFAS-contaminated wastewater and sludge was dumped
70 parts per trillion — Maximum concentration of PFOA and PFOS in drinking water, according to the EPA’s health advisory goal. North Carolina
has adopted that goal, but other states, like New Hampshire and New Jersey, have far stricter and enforceable
standards, 12-15 ppt
35,100 ppt — Maximum concentrations of PFOS in groundwater downhill from a the Piney Green Road Firefighting Training Pit at Camp Lejeune
3,460 ppt — Maximum concentrations of PFOA in the same area
2.6 — Number of acres encompassed by the Piney Green Road pit
47 — Number of acres at an amphibious vehicle maintenance facility, where a fire occurred, and firefighting foam was used
100 — Number of acres encompassed by the Industrial Area Fly Ash Dump; PFAS-contaminated wastewater might have been deposited there

Veteran journalist offers neat, on-the-mark summation of Trump’s disastrous presidency

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

This is the way the Trump presidency ends, not with a bang but with chaos, confusion and sleaze – just as it began.

President Trump has spent four years wasting the nation’s time, treasure and prestige as he turned the White House into a family profit center while demeaning Americans who make personal sacrifices without benefiting in some way as “losers” and “suckers.”

The losers and suckers he referred to were the World War I Marines who gave their lives for our freedom, a remark Trump made at a revered American cemetery in France, and, by extension, he applies to anyone who doesn’t put personal gain above service to others.

As he angrily prepares to exit the White House, Trump amplified the brazen tradition of presidential pardons – upwards of 60, so far, with more expected to come – of men and women very much like himself: grifters, tax cheats, liars, con artists, confederates in the Russia investigation, even convicted mercenary murderers. The swamp is overcrowding.

The squalid pardons suggest that crime does, in fact, pay, that lying, cheating, stealing, even murdering, are the cost of doing business in Trump’s transactional world. And the pardons further illustrate Trump’s determined effort to expunge the last traces of the Mueller investigation even though Trump can’t eliminate history books – not yet, anyway.

Trump, in short, has subordinated the rule of law to the rules of the marketplace. He placed himself above the health and well-being of the country, all the while his personal business interests translated into an extension of the presidency. He has refused to disengage from his business and he has resisted releasing his tax returns. There’s a special circle in Dante’s hell for Trump for the debased moral tone that he has set for the nation.

By contrast, what others, including Trump himself, might regard as accomplishments, exist only in the eyes of the beholders. Many historians, who usually wait for time to pass before they telescope a presidency into objective focus, have already classified Trump as the worst president in history. Majorities in current polls of voters have issued the same conclusion in the midst of the Trump-accelerated pandemic. Trump’s indifference allowed the lethal germ to spread unchecked. Bleach injection, anyone?

Without defaming the business community as a whole, Trump’s performance as president pretty much slams the door for the foreseeable future, at least, on any business person who might consider pursuing the job.

For generations, the idea of a businessman-as-president was the taproot of an American myth – government ought to be run like a business. And recall Charlie Wilson’s axiomatic, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America.” Forget it. Trump has corrupted the thought, as he has everyone and everything around him.

Much of Trump’s presidency existed in the ether. To chase Trump’s tweets as legitimate exercises of policy, or to allow them to evanesce into the nether sphere, was the conundrum of historians, journalists and ghost-chasers. He wasted much of America’s time and energy trying to decide what the commotion – or distractions – were about. Trump has trivialized the presidency.

Most of Trump’s tweets, as with many of his other utterances, are among the more than 23,000 lies, misstatements or other falsehoods catalogued by The Washington Post’s fact-checker during the Trump presidency.

In the end, much of the foam that Trump produced with his thumbs was little more than blather to reassure his millions of devoted followers, such as those lunkheads known as the “Proud Boys,” that civic disturbances are a detour around the law toward making America great again. Talk about suckers and losers.

When Trump first assumed the presidency, there was much palaver about rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

What the nation received for all the babble was not improved conveniences of movement from here to there. What Americans were given in return for their gas-tax dollars was a xenophobe’s dream – a wall, or at least part of one – that was less effective than the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China or Hadrian’s Wall across the north of Great Britain. It was no wall at all. Interlopers simply went over it, under it or through it.

The wall, in theory separating Mexico from the United States, functions more as a barbaric internment camp, or a prison site, for children separated from the parents than as a barrier to entry. The wall, still incomplete and probably never to be finished, was, according to Trump, to be paid for by Mexico, but cost billions in diverted dollars from other sources such as the Pentagon budget. Much of the construction money went to a Trump crony and donor in North Dakota.

America, for much of the world, has become a punch line, a laughingstock, and to its allies a partner no longer to be trusted. A Trump handshake is a risky count-your-fingers gesture. He has tried to cozy up to Vladimir Putin and Kim Jung Un at the same time he has backhanded Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

As late as last week, for example, Trump, once again, rebuffed the intelligence community by refusing to acknowledge that Russia was behind the recent cyber hacks of American government agencies. And to this day, four years after the accepted fact, Trump still refuses to acknowledge that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential elections, fearing that any assent would delegitimatize his presidency.

The family enrichment

Trump’s biggest abuse of power, perhaps, has been his use of the presidency for personal enrichment. Read more