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Environmental groups sue pipeline company over Belton spill

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An Upstate environmental group and advocate for the Savannah River have filed a lawsuit contending a pipeline company has violated the federal Clean Water Act by continuing to pollute waterways following a petroleum spill near Belton.

Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Anderson on Dec. 28 which comes after the groups issued a 60-day notice to pipeline giant Kinder Morgan in October stating the intention to file suit if the company did not take steps to clean up the spill site in Anderson County.

The Clean Water Act allows for third parties to sue companies responsible for pollution, but requires a 60-day notice before doing so.

“Our clean water is our most important resource,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever, in a statement. “Kinder Morgan has had two years to contain its huge gasoline spill, but Kinder Morgan continues to pollute the Upstate’s precious clean water with gasoline and petroleum pollutants.”

The suit also contends that Houston, Texas-based Kinder Morgan has made no effort to remove any “material amount of gasoline from the site” and “at least 170,000 gallons have not been removed.”

According to Kinder Morgan, the company has spent nearly $4.3 million through September 2016 on remediation of the spill site which has resulted in the recovery of 209,059 gallons of petroleum product. The company said it has also disposed of nearly 2,800 tons of impacted soil.

“From the onset, Plantation Pipe Line has taken full responsibility for the spill and expressed our commitment to a thorough and complete investigation and remediation of the site in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations,” the company said in an emailed statement.

The Southern Environmental Law Center — which represents both Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper in the suit — said tests of the spill area in September showed an increase in pollution that was “measured at many times the applicable standards.”

“More than two years after this spill was discovered, Kinder Morgan is still polluting the waters of Anderson County and the Savannah River Basin, and at last count, the pollution was increasing,” said Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a statement. “It’s well past time for Kinder Morgan to do everything necessary to clean up its spill and stop gasoline from flowing into our water.”

In October, Pete Yanity, spokesman for the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Controls, told GSA Business Report surface water analysis of the spill site showed chemicals present in the Brown Creek location. The concentrations were high, but “they are typical for release sites where free-phase gasoline is present,” Yanity said.

Under the terms of its Corrective Action Plan submitted to DEHC, Kinder Morgan said it will install biosparging wells which it expects to be operational in the near future. The company also shot back at the Southern Environmental Law Center for not providing full data and results of water sampling done at the site.

“Sharing test results and methodologies among interested stakeholders and the company responsible for the cleanup is common practice and demonstrates goodwill in working toward the same goal; namely, a comprehensive and thorough cleanup and restoration effort for the impacted area,” the company said. “An organization that is truly committed to protecting the environment should be willing and eager to share its data and discuss potential remedial approaches without wasting the time and resources of the court and the parties involved.”

The suit is asking the District Court to order Kinder Morgan to stop any and all discharging of petroleum into the waterway, remove any gasoline from the site, put a treatment plan in place for groundwater before it reaches the stream and pay “substantial” fines. Under the Clean Water Act, the company can be fined up to $51,570 per day, per violation.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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