HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The estimated 2 million gallons of gasoline that seeped out from a crack in a multi-state pipeline has quite literally gone deeper than anyone expected. 

Now, there is a plan to escalate mitigation efforts that the public will be able to comment on this week. 

Colonial Pipeline recently submitted a permit for the plans for a wastewater treatment plant around the site of the massive 2020 leak from their pipeline. In August of that year, two teens discovered gas coming up from the ground while riding an ATV in the Oehler Nature Preserve on the east side of Huntersville. 

The leak was stopped at the time, but what seeped out beforehand through a “through-wall crack” in the pipeline wound up becoming what’s been deemed the largest of its kind in North Carolina history. A network of recovery and monitoring wells have been placed throughout the area. 

“What is the most efficient way, the least intrusive way, the least annoying way?” asked state Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat representing northern and western Mecklenburg County. “It may be ‘treat this water on-site and then put it back once it’s clean.’” 

The cleanup site in 2022 at the Colonial Pipeline spill. (Courtesy: Colonial Pipeline)

Marcus has been one of the many critics in the handling of the leak. However, she noted this permit proposal from Colonial — on its surface — is not a bad idea. She said she is reserving judgement until after hearing from the public about their feelings on the proposed water treatment plant. 

The plant itself would address a growing problem with the Colonial Pipeline gas cleanup.  Studies show the gas itself is deeper than first thought and has been in contact with groundwater. With the plant, whatever mixture of gas and water would be recovered on site, with water going back out into nearby Cane Creek.   

Cane Creek is part of the Yadkin River basin. 

As it currently stands, the mixture of water and gas is trucked away from the site. 

“It’s expensive, it’s loud and there’s exhaust from fumes, (and) more traffic on the roads,” said Marcus. 

The permit has met with a mixed response. 

Neighbors have expressed reservations on the aesthetics of such a plant nearby. 

Others, like the nonprofit organization Yadkin Riverkeeper, said that if the project will happen, there needs to be minimum standards set. 

“There are really no good options here,” said Edgar Miller, the Riverkeeper’s executive director. 

Miller noted any other option available at the moment for the ultimate cleanup may just not be feasible or realistic. One of the things the organization wants to see would involve electronic monitoring of whatever is released from the plant. 

“We just want to make sure this doesn’t affect water quality,” said Miller. 

Colonial noted that the concerns from the group are being addressed by the state in recent filings with the Deptartment of Environmental Quality. 

The company released the following statement: 

“This permit will allow Colonial Pipeline to enhance our ongoing recovery and remediation efforts with a system that will safely return treated water to the local watershed while reducing truck traffic at and around the site. We remain committed to working closely with the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, as well as county and town leaders, to ensure our work at the site meets or exceeds all permitting requirements.” 

Marcus noted that the project could speed up recovery, which is expected — at the moment —  to take years. 

Colonial said the wastewater treatment plant, if approved, would indeed speed up recovery, and would only be there for the length of the remediation. It also noted the project would speed up the recovery process. 

The public hearing for the Colonial’s proposed wastewater treatment plant is set for Thursday at 6 p.m. at Claudia Walkins Belk Center for Justice Auditorium on the Central Piedmont Community College Merancas Campus in Huntersville. Speaker registration opens at 5 p.m.