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State Orders Colonial To Test More Private Wells Near Huntersville Gas Leak Site

Aerial view of the Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Huntersville.
Mike Harvey
Aerial view of the Colonial Pipeline gasoline spill in Huntersville.

North Carolina environmental officials have ordered Colonial Pipeline to expand testing of private wells around the site of a massive gasoline spill last year in Huntersville.

The expanded testing is among 22 "corrective actions" ordered by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ says Colonial's 1,600-page Jan. 20 Comprehensive Site Assessment doesn't have enough information to determine the full impact of the incident.

“We will continue to hold Colonial Pipeline accountable for its actions and response to the largest gasoline spill in North Carolina’s history,” Michael Scott, head of the DEQ's Division of Waste Management, said in a press release. “The Comprehensive Site Assessment lacks critical information necessary to determine the full extent of the impacts of this event. This information is crucial for the protection of public health and the environment.”

Two teenagers on all-terrain vehicles discovered the spill Aug. 14 while riding in the Oehler Nature Preserve off Huntersville-Concord Road east of downtown Huntersville. At least 1.2 million gallons leaked, making it the largest gasoline spill in North Carolina and one of the largest in U.S. history.

At first, Colonial said 60,000 gallons of gasoline spilled. Since then, it has revised the estimate several times as workers continued to recover up to 5,000 gallons of gasoline per day from wells dug around the site.

This week, DEQ issued what's called a "Notice of Continuing Violation" to Colonial. It spells out what the company must do to correct ongoing problems.

DEQ has ordered the company to extend testing of private drinking water wells another 500 feet beyond the current testing area, covering six extra wells. Tests will be conducted every six months going forward. So far, Colonial hasn't found gasoline or related chemicals in any private wells it has tested.

The Notice of Continuing Violation says Colonial has until April 26 to correct a list of 22 problems in the Comprehensive Site Assessment. Actions include:

  • Installing at least 12 deep wells to fully define the vertical extent of the contamination.
  • Supplying documentation of how Colonial estimated the amount of gasoline.
  • Better describing the contents of the excavated soil and disclosing where it's being permanently dumped.
  • Reporting on the potential risk of gasoline vapors entering homes, buildings and utility conduits.
  • Detailing what it's doing to monitor air quality and noise at the cleanup site.

The pipeline is actually two parallel pipes that carry petroleum products from Houston to New York City. One of the pipes is dedicated for gasoline. The adjacent is for other products, including gasoline, jet fuel and home heating oil.

After the spill, DEQ cited Colonial for violating state environmental rules. Tests of groundwater have shown gasoline-related chemicals at levels above accepted environmental standards.

DEQ previously ordered Colonial to restore the surrounding groundwater quality to state standards. The company must also provide monthly reports on tests of soil, surface water, pipeline monitoring wells and drinking wells.

Colonial has estimated that the leak will cost it $10.3 million, with at least $2.5 million of that slated for environmental cleanup of the contaminated soil and groundwater.

A Colonial spokesperson said the company is reviewing the new order but said in a statement it is already doing some of what the DEQ has requested.

"From the beginning of this incident, Colonial Pipeline Company has cooperated and coordinated with state and federal regulators as well as Mecklenburg County officials, with regular on-site meetings and updates," the statement reads "We continue to provide detailed information as required and as requested regarding ongoing recovery and remediation efforts, including proactive and voluntary activities at the site and on our pipelines.

"We are reviewing NCDEQ’s most recent request, which includes activities that are already underway, and some information requests that have already been previously submitted, and we will work diligently to respond to the department’s additional requests."

Copyright 2021 WFAE. To see more, visit .

David Boraks is a WFAE weekend host and a producer for "Charlotte Talks." He's a veteran Charlotte-area journalist who has worked part-time at WFAE since 2007 and for other outlets including and The Charlotte Observer.
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