Kinder Morgan, the Texas-based energy company that wants to run a 360-mile petroleum pipeline through Upstate South Carolina and Coastal Georgia, is dealing with a leak of more than 250,000 gallons from one of its existing pipelines in South Carolina, officials said.
That leak is in the Plantation Pipeline in Belton, South Carolina, which is where the proposed Palmetto Pipeline would tie in and extend along the Savannah River and the Georgia coast on its way to Jacksonville, Florida.
According to maps Kinder Morgan released during a recent public hearing in Richmond Hill, 11 miles of the pipeline would be in Bryan County. The company also plans a terminal with six to eight tanks on 45 acres off Belfast Keller Road, near a planned Interstate 95 interchange, Palmetto Pipeline Project Director Brian Williams recently told the Development Authority of Bryan County.
Jim Beasley, a spokesman for the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, told the Bryan County News that the leak, reported Dec. 8, “was the result of a sleeve failure in the 27-inch pipeline.”
“To date, 176,901 gallons of product have been recovered and removed, and 2,832 tons of soil have been removed and treated off-site,” Beasley wrote in an email in response to questions from the News.
Kinder Morgan spokeswoman Melissa Ruiz told the Courier that 8,000 barrels — or 252,000 gallons — of petroleum product was released from the Plantation Pipeline system.
The Savannah Riverkeeper said in a news release issued Thursday that Kinder Morgan initially reported the leak was 8,000 gallons, but Kinder Morgan said that is not accurate.
“Initially, we did not have a quantity to report, and the specific volume was undetermined,” Ruiz said in an email response to questions from the News. “We are currently working under the direction of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, and we expect to be on-site, continuing with the cleanup, until the state is satisfied with our efforts and all work is complete.”
Ruiz concurred with Beasley on the cause of the leak, adding that the sleeve had been installed on the pipeline in 1979. She said it has been repaired, and the company is “now inspecting other sleeves along the system that were installed during the same time period.”
“We are working closely with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control (SCDHEC), and we are following all established standards and protocols required to properly remediate the site,” she said. “This type of remediation work is typically long-term, and we work under the direction of the SCDHEC. The SCDHEC reviews and approves our work plans, monitors our progress and determines when the work is complete.”
Beasley said 71 groundwater-monitoring wells are in place, and remediation is being conducted via 20 recovery sumps, 15 recovery wells and two recovery trenches. Of those, he said, 26 monitoring wells and sumps are free of any measurable petroleum.
“Although contamination did impact the unnamed tributary off Brown’s Creek, no exceedances of surface-water standards have been recorded in the tributary since January 2015,” he said. “A recovery trench and recovery wells are in place to address the contamination at the tributary in addition to absorbent and impermeable booms that are set up in the tributary itself as a backup measure.”
The Riverkeeper organization said it learned of the leak early this year.
“The discovery of such a high-volume spill is completely in contrast with Kinder Morgan's repeated statements regarding their spill-detection monitors,” Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said. “It has been five months since the leak was reported. The claim that this company can immediately detect and promptly clean up a spill has been shown in this instance to be false.”
Kinder Morgan filed for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity from the Georgia Department of Transportation on Feb. 13, which would grant the company the right of eminent domain to seize private property should the utility and landowners fail to agree on right-of-way access.
Since then, Kinder Morgan hosted seven informal “informational open houses,” which critics termed false public hearings. After pressure from anti-pipeline groups and local representatives, GDOT held an official public hearing April 21 at Richmond Hill City Center, attended by more than 500 people, many of whom spoke out against the proposed pipeline.
The next GDOT hearing will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday, May 7, in the auditorium of Augusta Technical College’s Waynesboro Campus, 216 Highway 24 in Waynesboro.
Savannah Riverkeeper is a founding organization of the Push Back the Pipeline, a coalition of concerned citizens, landowners, organizations and other groups who oppose the Palmetto Project.