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Colonial Pipeline spill in Huntersville bigger than initially said

An estimated two million gallons of fuel spilled in Huntersville in 2020, new numbers released Friday revealed.

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. — New documents released Friday by the Colonial Pipeline Company show their 2020 spill in Huntersville was "the largest onshore fuel spill in the nation," according to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). 

Friday's new data estimates that two million gallons of fuel spilled in Oehler Nature Preserve. That number is 32 times larger than the initially announced 63,000 gallons announced by the company days after the August 14 leak was discovered. Two million gallons is the equivalent of about two large swimming pools. 

The company said they have recovered an estimated 75% of the fuel spilled. 

The numbers released Friday were the result of recent legal pressures brought against the company in North Carolina and Mecklenburg County courts.

DEQ said they are reviewing the updated data, which was released under the terms of a 2022 Consent Order approved by a Mecklenburg County Superior court judge earlier this month. As a result of the order, the pipeline company also had to pay nearly $5 million related to the fuel spill.

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

In November of 2021, DEQ sought a judicial injunction claiming Colonial Pipeline failed to provide "essential information related to the size of the discharge." In those documents, officials argued they needed a "clear understanding of the size and scope of the release."

In a letter dated Friday to the DEQ, Sam McEwen, the environmental director for the pipeline company, said his company has changed its methodology around how it calculates the size of the spill. 

"Each estimate we have provided to-date has been based on the best available data we had at the time," McEwen wrote. 

McEwen described the estimate as a "reasonable estimate" and added "like any estimate, it requires certain reasonable assumptions and depends upon the accuracy of the data used as inputs."

RELATED: Colonial Pipeline fully resumes service after reportedly paying hackers $5 million ransom

Although unrelated to the 2020 leak in Huntersville, Colonial Pipeline is the same company that had some of its technology networks compromised by hackers in 2021. After the cyber attack, North Carolina declared a state of emergency as some gas stations began to run out of fuel.

RELATED: Verify: Yes, Colonial Pipeline does supply most of the fuel to North Carolina

At the time, the WCNC Charlotte Verify team found Colonial Pipeline supplies up to 75% of North Carolina's fuel supply.

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