If you have been following our blog, you've read about the protests organized by Savannah Riverkeeper to oppose Kinder Morgan's development of its Palmetto Pipeline. According to Oil & Gas Journal, the pipeline would have transported 167,000 barrels of refined oil products a day through the southern states. The 360-mile span of the pipeline was one reason the group resisted the project due to the possibility of oil spills that could occur in the event of a pipeline rupture. Citing concerns about the risks the pipeline would expose to clean drinking water, wildlife and the environment in South Carolina and Georgia, Savannah Riverkeeper was ultimately successful in its attempt to shut down the project because the Kinder Morgan decided to abandon its proposed plans.
While the organization helped to avert one oil spill, its representatives were on hand when another occurred this past October. After a September oil spill in Alabama, a pipeline repair crew was dispatched to fix a section of the Colonial Pipeline. During the course of the restoration, an excavation mistake led to a pipe rupture and an explosion that rocked the countryside. David Butler, leader of the Riverkeeper for the Cahaba in Alabama, was called in to test for water pollution in the waterways within the explosion's vicinity.
He had also been dispatched to the area in September when a leak was detected by an inspector who happened to smell fumes when he was conducting his rounds for a task that was not related to the Colonial Pipeline. Although the Colonial Pipeline Co., the company responsible for maintaining the pipeline, claims that it has technology in place to monitor spills, such devices failed to detect the September leak.
Based in Alpharetta, Georgia, Colonial profits from charging refiners to deliver nearly 50 percent of refined oil products to states along the southern and eastern coastline. Dwarfing the span of the planned Palmetto Pipeline, the Colonial Pipeline is 5,500 miles long. Constructed in a time before there was heated resistance to pipeline development, the pipeline suffers ruptures due to its age. Critics decry the company's safety practices, claiming they too have led to an ever-increasing series of pipeline accidents.
In 2016 alone, Colonial documented five leaks in its Alabama pipeline. According to Bloomberg, this count is "one less in 10 months than it had had in the previous five years." Previous to the spill in October, the costs associated with clean up and restitution for property damage exceeded $75 million for 2016.
According to Colonial's spokesperson, "When incidents do occur, we investigate and determine the cause alongside government regulators, and take corrective actions based on lessons learned to minimize the likelihood of similar events happening again in the future. We are doing the same here," she wrote in reference to the response to the October pipeline explosion.
Colonial has not yet revealed the cause of October's accident nor has it explained why its detection systems failed to report the September leak. Without oversight of environmental inspectors, it is difficult to say how much worse the September leak could have been.