SC pipeline rupture still polluting area 2 years after break; SELC takes first step toward suit

UPDATE: Just after SELC filed the notice of intent to sue Kinder Morgan, outlined below, the state’s environmental agency released new testing from the site of the gasoline spill that shows higher concentrations of toxins than Kinder Morgan had ever reported before.

The testing, done in August by Kinder Morgan but not made public until this month, came after an order from the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control (DHEC). The agency told Kinder Morgan to test the water closer to the location of the spill, not on the other side of the creek as the company had been doing.

The newest results show that, even after almost two years after the pipeline rupture, several toxic chemicals and compounds are contaminating the water and wetlands at extremely high levels. Benzene, a component of gasoline, exceeded environmental guidelines by 3,000 percent.

“These results show what we warned in our Clean Water Act notice letter, that Kinder Morgan’s testing for the last year and a half has not reported the full extent of the gasoline pollution from its pipeline spill,” Senior Attorney Frank Holleman said. “These striking levels of gasoline pollution are occurring, and have been first reported, over a year and a half after the Kinder Morgan pipeline rupture was discovered.”


One of the largest pipeline spills in South Carolina history has not been cleaned up nearly two years after the rupture, leading conservation groups to deliver written notice to Kinder Morgan and the Plantation Pipe Line Company that a federal Clean Water Act lawsuit is coming.

SELC Senior Attorneys Chris DeScherer and Frank Holleman sent the 60-day notice this morning on behalf of the Savannah Riverkeeper and Upstate Forever.

“Kinder Morgan is responsible for one of the largest pipeline spills in South Carolina history, yet thousands of gallons of gasoline have not been cleaned up,” said Holleman. “A year and a half after the spill, petroleum is polluting this waterway that flows through Anderson County, and the stream banks reek of gasoline. This pollution must stop, and Kinder Morgan must take responsibility for its pollution of South Carolina.”

The rupture of an aging patch on the 26-inch Plantation Pipeline caused nearly 370,000 gallons of gasoline and petroleum products to leak into an area near Lewis Drive in Belton, S.C. The spill apparently went undetected by the pipeline company. It was discovered in December, 2014, when nearby residents noticed plants dying, and smelled petroleum.

The spill was so voluminous it contaminated a layer of earth 14 feet thick.

Company records gathered by SELC indicate about 160,500 gallons of gasoline remain in the soil, groundwater and creeks.

“Kinder Morgan is not doing enough to protect our watershed, and the people who depend on it, from this spill,” said Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper. “There is no record showing they’ve extracted any measurable amount of gasoline since early 2016, despite ongoing pollution that has been flowing from this tributary into the Savannah River for nearly a year.”

Water samples taken by the conservation groups in August revealed contamination in areas not tested by Kinder Morgan as of July, and showed higher chemical concentrations in areas Kinder Morgan did test.

Records show some of the company’s samples were logged from the side of a creek opposite from where the spill happened, and in an area where another creek dilutes the water. Both approaches could dilute the testing results.

“Kinder Morgan must clean up this spill, the fourth largest petroleum pipeline spill in the history of the Upstate,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever.  “Our Upstate waterways and Anderson County deserve no less.”

Recent testing showed the gasoline is breaking down into hazardous chemicals, including benzene and toluene. The contaminated area is part of the Savannah River watershed.

Federal records cited in the 60-day notice show poor and delayed maintenance has contributed to similar ruptures on the company’s other pipelines.

The records show faulty materials, welding, or equipment caused more than 60 percent of the Plantation Pipeline leaks in the past decade.

The 60-day notice to Kinder Morgan is a required step before filing a Clean Water Act lawsuit.   


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