Colonial Pipeline says it still doesn't know how much gasoline spilled when one of its pipes burst at a Huntersville nature preserve in August. And the company still can't say how long it will take to clean up the largest gasoline spill in North Carolina.
It happened Aug. 16 in a wooded area about 2½ miles east of downtown Huntersville called the Oehler Nature Preserve. Colonial initially said about 63,000 gallons of gasoline leaked. But as of last Thursday, nearly 311,000 gallons had been recovered, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality, or DEQ.
Workers are still recovering 3,000-5,000 gallons a day. So Colonial isn't sure what the final tally will be, chief risk officer Angela Kolar told the Huntersville Town Board on Monday night.
"We're working through that now, and again continuing to coordinate with the DEQ to determine that volume number," Kolar said. "We'll release a number when we believe it's accurate and verified through multiple models."
At 311,000 gallons, it's bigger than any previous gasoline spill in North Carolina, according to the DEQ. And it's approaching the size of a 2016 spill in Alabama that caused gasoline shortages.
Kolar said tests of private wells at homes nearby have not found any contamination. But the DEQ's Scott Bullock told commissioners that three homeowners so far have accepted the company's offer to pay for connecting to the public water supply.
The pipeline was repaired after the spill and gasoline was flowing again in September. But last week, Colonial cut out the section of the pipeline that leaked so it can study the defect that led to the spill, Kolar said.
"We did want to remove that section and send it off for analysis, so that we could better understand the 'why,' giving us an opportunity to learn from that pipe to make sure that we don't have that type of an event again," she said.
Colonial has drilled about 100 testing and recovery wells around the leak site. Bullock said those wells have defined the area of contamination, and it does not appear to be expanding.
Recovered gasoline is being shipped in tankers to a recycling company in Ohio. Meanwhile, workers have excavated about 4,000 tons of contaminated soil. That's being trucked to the Charlotte Motor Speedway Landfill in Concord.
Huntersville town board members asked Kolar how long the cleanup might take.
"We're still in the assessment and recovery phase of the response. So it's really too soon to give a date for how long we'll be there," Kolar said. "We'll be there as long as it takes."
In September, the DEQ issued a "Notice of Violation" to Colonial after chemicals found in gasoline were discovered at dangerous levels in groundwater samples around the site of the pipeline leak. They included benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene. The federal government says benzene can cause cancer by exposure through the air, and ethylbenzene has been possibly linked to cancer.
Colonial's next major report is due to state regulators on Jan. 20.
NC Department of Environmental Quality Colonial Pipeline spill information page, https://deq.nc.gov/about/divisions/waste-management/underground-storage-tanks-section/colonial-pipeline-spill
Colonial Pipeline emergency response website on the Huntersville spill, https://sr2448.colonialresponse.com/