At Cheddar spill siteBy Stan Welch – The continuing inquiry into the circumstances of a 2014 petroleum spill in the Cheddar area, and its subsequent impacts on the environment has taken a recent twist.
Information obtained by a consulting firm, Aquilogic, Inc. on behalf of the Southern Environmental Law Center, supports the possibility that the 2014 leak in a pipeline owned and operated by the Plantation Pipeline Company (PPC) may have been either a recurring or ongoing spill, and not a defined single event.
The results of the testing performed by the company were shared with Anderson County officials by the Southern Law Center, which is one of several parties to a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, which owns PPC. According to documents obtained by The Journal, there are several factors that point to the potential release of product by the company well before the 2014 spill that was discovered in the Lewis Drive area of the Cheddar community.
The study states plainly that Aquilogic, Inc. “believes that multiple or ongoing releases have likely occurred at the site.” The study offers the following evidence for its conclusions. Both gasoline and diesel products were detected at seeps near Brown’s Creek, an indication that more than one release had occurred; or that the leak had continued during an extended period of time, during which the pipeline was used to transport both products.
The detection of MTBE, a fuel additive whose use was largely phased out by 2009, in fifteen of the monitoring wells strongly suggest that there has been at least one leak prior to 2009. Aquilogic states that MTBE is no longer blended into gasoline anywhere in the country, to their knowledge.
A third factor supporting the possibility of earlier leaks was the determination that the leak occurred from a place in the pipeline where a dent had been patched earlier. This indicates previous damage to the pipeline; damage significant enough to require repairs..
The study also sought to more accurately determine the time of the 2014 leak, which went undiscovered by conventional monitoring methods or aerial reconnaissance. On December 8, 2014, according to the report, “local citizens discovered dead plants, a petroleum odor, and pools of gasoline in an area near the pipeline and Lewis Drive.” In January of 2015, petroleum seeps were discovered approximately one thousand feet from the spill site.
Groundwater seepage velocities were calculated by CH2M Hill, a consultant for the KinderMorgan Corporation. Such calculations can be used to work back to a more accurate dating of a spill. The original calculation of 3.8 feet per day was expanded by Aquilogic to a range of 3.8 feet per day to 9.8 feet per day. That led Aquilogic to modify the likely window, extending it from April to September of 2014.
A further refinement of that calculation, due to other factors affecting the velocity of seepage, led the study to conclude that the 2014 spill actually occurred prior to April. If accurate, that conclusion would mean that the leak, which is estimated to have spilled almost 370,000 gallons, went on for at least nine months. According to a comprehensive action plan submitted to DHEC several months ago, approximately two hundred thousand gallons have been recovered, an estimate that has been challenged by several of the parties to the lawsuit against KinderMorgan, including the Savannah RiverKeepers and Upstate Forever.
The Aquilogic report also lists a dozen recommendations, almost all of which focus on obtaining more complete information from KinderMorgan and PPC. That information includes, in part, original design documents for the pipeline, confirmation on the actual dates of the phase out of MTBE, various inventory and transport records for the last thirty years. The list of recommendations also includes a request for additional testing of samples beneath existing contamination.
SCDHEC is also involved in additional testing, and has stated its commitment to the cleanup of the contamination. Officials have stated their expectation that such efforts may require their presence in the area for as much as a decade.
Anderson County has yet to officially join the lawsuit, but has become more actively involved, with representatives from Districts Seven, Three, and Two taking the most active roles, since bodies of water that could be impacted lie within those districts.