Breaking News
More () »

North Carolina DEQ files complaint against Colonial Pipeline in massive Huntersville spill

North Carolina environment officials filed a complaint against Colonial Pipeline, for failing to meet its obligations for the largest fuel spill in state history.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) filed a complaint and motion in Mecklenburg County court to force Colonial Pipeline to meet its obligations for a massive gasoline spill in Huntersville last year. 

In the complaint, NC DEQ said Colonial Pipeline has failed to provide state officials with essential information required for cleanup at the site, where a section of cracked pipeline leaked more than 1 million gallons of fuel at the Oehler Nature Preserve in northern Mecklenburg County. 

"Colonial owes it to the people of North Carolina to cooperate with DEQ and be forthcoming with the information required by our statutes, starting with an accurate estimate of how much fuel was released into the environment," DEQ Secretary Elizabeth S. Biser said. 

Karen Sherman lives roughly a mile from where the spill occurred.

"I was happy because they haven't been very transparent with the town or the state, and I think it's about time we got some answers," Sherman said. "We just need answers. We need to know why this happened in the first place."

Click here to sign up for the daily Wake Up Charlotte newsletter

In response to the NCDEQ's filing, Colonial Pipeline sent WCNC Charlotte the following statement Tuesday:

“Colonial Pipeline is reviewing the state of North Carolina’s legal filing submitted today.  We are committed to working with NCDEQ to address the matters identified and will remain on site for as long as it takes to restore the surrounding environment.  We have made significant progress to date, and remain focused on recovering product as quickly and safely as possible which is in the best interest of the public.  We are proud of our employees who have worked diligently since this incident began to protect the health and safety of the community and the environment.”

The Associated Press reported in July that Colonial Pipeline faced a $200,000 fine each day if it failed to improve the way it detected leaks in its system after the leak, which was discovered by two teenagers in August 2020. In a June 15 settlement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, the company reported that almost 18 times more gasoline leaked from the pipe than the original estimate. 

DEQ claimed in its motion Tuesday that Colonial has yet to give the state an updated estimate of the spill, violating requirements set forth. 

At the same time Colonial was cleaning up the Huntersville spill, it was quietly analyzing the impacts of another spill in northwest Charlotte on Dec. 31, 2018. Leroy Patterson, a man who lives off Mount Holly Road, near Colonial's tank farm, said he was coming home from work on New Year's Eve in 2018 when he smelled something.

"I smelled this gas," Patterson said. "So I looked around and didn't see anything. Then on the following day, I saw a number of people over there."  

The company filed an accident report that said crews later found the source: Jet fuel was leaking from a pinhole in a section of the pipe feeding one of the tanks. More than 8,000 tons of contaminated soil were removed from the site. Further examination by WCNC Charlotte revealed that 13,000 gallons of fuel spilled was only what workers were able to recover. The company said the pipe leaked an additional 3,200 gallons of jet fuel that weren't recovered. 

Wake Up Charlotte To Go is a daily news and weather podcast you can listen to so you can start your day with the team at Wake Up Charlotte
SUBSCRIBEApple Podcasts || Spotify || Stitcher || TuneIn || Google Podcasts  

All of WCNC Charlotte's podcasts are free and available for both streaming and download. You can listen now on Android, iPhone, Amazon, and other internet-connected devices. Join us from North Carolina, South Carolina, or on the go anywhere.  

Before You Leave, Check This Out