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Groups give pipeline owner notice of suit

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Three environmental groups have issued a notice to Kinder Morgan, giving the company 60 days to finish cleaning up a pipeline spill from 2014 or the group will file suit.

The Southern Environmental Law Center, Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper issued a notice to the pipeline giant that it will file a Clean Water Act suit related to the rupture of the Plantation Pipeline near Belton.

“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 Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, in a statement. “A year and a half after the spill, petroleum is polluting this waterway that flows through Anderson County, and the streams reek of gasoline.”

This photo is meant to show petroleum products still present near Brown’s Creek in Anderson County. Three environmental groups filed a 60-day notice to sue pipeline giant Kinder Morgan under the Clean Water Act claiming the clean-up from a 2014 spill is still polluting the waterway. (Photo provided by the Southern Environmental Law Center)The rupture in the line was discovered in December 2014 and spilled nearly 370,000 gallons of gasoline and other petroleum products into the ground near Lewis Drive in Belton, according to the SELC. The law group said approximately 160,500 gallons of gasoline is still in the soil, groundwater and area streams. The group said it came to that figure based on documents it obtained from Kinder Morgan.

Melissa Ruiz, spokeswoman for the Houston-based pipeline, said in an emailed statement, Kinder Morgan and its subsidiary, Plantation Pipe Line Company, “has taken full responsibility for the spill” and also said it continues a “thorough and complete investigation and remediation of the site in accordance with all applicable laws.”

“Our investigation and remediation efforts to date have achieved significant measureable progress, and we have submitted a corrective action plan to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Conservation,” Ruiz said.

According to Ruiz, Kinder Morgan has spent $4.3 million on remediation and repairs which has yielded the extraction of 209,059 gallons of gasoline and petroleum products from the site. She said the company has disposed of nearly 2,800 tons of impacted soil as part of the remediation efforts.

However, Tonya Bonitatibus, the Savannah Riverkeeper, said the company has not done enough.

“There is no record showing they’ve extracted any measureable amount of gasoline since 2016, despite ongoing pollution that has been flowing from this tributary into the Savannah River for nearly a year,” Bonitatibus said.

Ruiz said there is no petroleum sheen on Brown’s Creek, but there have been some areas where benzene and “other related contaminants” have been found where the groundwater meets the creek. She said the contaminants “are not widespread and testing indicates that the impacts are not present further downstream.”

But, the environmental groups contend the samples taken by Kinder Morgan are from the opposite side of Brown’s Creek from where the groundwater entered the creek. In its 60-day notice, the groups show federal documents that indicate that “poor and delayed maintenance has contributed to similar ruptures.”

“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, in a statement. “Our Upstate waterways and Anderson County deserve no less.”

According to the Corrective Action Plan filed with the state, Kinder Morgan said it will install 49 biosparging wells at the primary spill site. Ruiz said most of the well system has been constructed and should be online by the end of the year.

“Our commitment and comprehensive approach to the full remediation and restoration of this area has been well received by the state and we will continue those efforts,” Ruiz said. “It is not uncommon for remediation activities to proceed over multiple years. As we’ve stated before, we will continue these efforts until no further action is required.”

According to Kinder Morgan’s website, the Plantation Pipeline delivers nearly 700,000 barrels of gasoline, jet fuel and biodiesel per day over 3,100 miles of pipeline. The line begins in Louisiana and ends in the Washington, D.C. area.

Kinder Morgan recently suspended plans to construct a $1 billion extension of the line from Belton to Jacksonville, Fla. citing a moratorium on the use of eminent domain passed in Georgia. The proposed pipeline was aimed to deliver 167,000 barrels of refined petroleum products per day from Belton to Florida. A study done by the University of South Carolina, commissioned by Kinder Morgan, found South Carolina could have seen nearly $500 million in economic impact from the suspended pipeline.

Reach Matthew Clark at 864-720-1222.

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