Colonial Pipeline and site of Sept 2016 leak in Alabama

A Proper Picture of the Colonial Pipeline’s Past

On September 9, 2016 a pipeline leak was detected from the Colonial Pipeline by a mine inspector in Shelby County, Alabama. It is estimated to have spilled ~336,000 gallons of gasoline, resulting in the shutdown of a major part of America’s gasoline distribution system. As such, we thought it timely to provide some data and a map on the Colonial Pipeline Project.

Figure 1. Dynamic map of Colonial Pipeline route and related infrastructure

View Map Fullscreen | How Our Maps Work | The Sept. 2016 leak occurred in Shelby County, Alabama

Pipeline History

The Colonial Pipeline was built in 1963, with some segments dating back to at least 1954. Colonial carries gasoline and other refined petroleum projects throughout the South and Eastern U.S. – originating at Houston, Texas and terminating at the Port of New York and New Jersey. This ~5,000-mile pipeline travels through 12 states and the Gulf of Mexico at one point. According to available data, prior to the September 2016 incident for which the cause is still not known, roughly 113,382 gallons had been released from the Colonial Pipeline in 125 separate incidents since 2010 (Table 1).

Table 1. Reported Colonial Pipeline incident impacts by state, between 3/24/10 and 7/25/16

State Incidents (#) Barrels* Released Total Cost ($)
AL 10 91.49 2,718,683
GA 11 132.38 1,283,406
LA 23 86.05 1,002,379
MD 6 4.43 27,862
MS 6 27.36 299,738
NC 15 382.76 3,453,298
NJ 7 7.81 255,124
NY 2 27.71 88,426
PA 1 0.88 28,075
SC 9 1639.26 4,779,536
TN 2 90.2 1,326,300
TX 19 74.34 1,398,513
VA 14 134.89 15,153,471
Total** 125 2699.56 31,814,811
*1 Barrel = 42 U.S. Gallons

** The total amount of petroleum products spilled from the Colonial Pipeline in this time frame equates to roughly 113,382 gallons. This figure does not include the September 2016 spill of ~336,000 gallons.

Data source: PHMSA

Unfortunately, the Colonial Pipeline has also been the source of South Carolina’s largest pipeline spill. The incident occurred in 1996 near Fork Shoals, South Carolina and spilled nearly 1 million gallons of fuel into the Reedy River. The September 2016 spill has not reached any major waterways or protected ecological areas, to-date.

Additional Details

Owners of the pipeline include Koch Industries, South Korea’s National Pension Service and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Royal Dutch Shell, and Industry Funds Management.

For more details about the Colonial Pipeline, see Table 2.

Table 2. Specifications of the Colonial and/or Intercontinental pipeline

Pipeline Segments 1,1118
Mileage (mi.)
Avg. Length 4.3
Max. Length 206
Total Length 4,774
Segment Flow Direction (# Segments)
Null 657
East 33
North 59
Northeast 202
Northwest 68
South 20
Southeast 30
Southwest 14
West 35
Segment Bi-Directional (# Segments)
Null 643
No 429
Yes 46
Segment Location
State Number Total Mileage Avg. Mileage Long Avg. PSI Avg. Diameter (in.)
Alabama 11 782 71 206 794 35
Georgia 8 266 33 75 772 27
Gulf of Mexico 437 522 1.2 77 50 1.4
Louisiana 189 737 3.9 27 413 11
Maryland 11 68 6.2 9 781 30
Mississippi 63 56 0.9 15 784 29
North Carolina 13 146 11.2 23 812 27
New Jersey 65 314 4.8 28 785 28
New York 2 6.4 3.2 6.4 800 26
Pennsylvania 72 415 5.8 17 925 22
South Carolina 6 119 19.9 55 783 28
Texas 209 1,004 4.8 33 429 10
Virginia 32 340 10.6 22 795 27
PSI = Pounds per square inch (pressure)

Data source: US EIA

By Sam Rubright, Ted Auch, and Matt Kelso – FracTracker Alliance

Proposed Palmetto Pipeline in Southeastern US

Proposed Palmetto Pipeline: At what cost?

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Asserting that the proposed Palmetto Pipeline is essential to supply gas and diesel to the residents of south Georgia and northern Florida, Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan has found themselves in the crosshairs of yet another battle. Connecting to the existing Plantation Pipeline, the proposed $1 billion Palmetto Pipeline would run from Belton, SC to terminals in Augusta, SC; Richmond Hill, GA; and Jacksonville, FL, a distance of 360+ miles. Along that corridor currently, gasoline is delivered from inland terminals to ports via trucking companies rather than by pipeline.

Proposed Palmetto Pipeline Route

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The Land in Question

In order for the pipeline to be built through Georgia, agreements for a pipeline right-of-way would need to be sealed with 396 private landowners, and the land owned by these private citizens constitutes 92% of the route of the pipeline through the state. According to Kinder Morgan, however, 80% of the pipeline would be build next to (although not within) existing rights-of way for powerlines, pipelines, railroads, and roadways.

Kinder Morgan asserts that the Palmetto Pipeline would create 28 permanent jobs in Georgia. However, opponents of the pipeline measure the flip-side of economic impacts, with more than 250 jobs lost for coastal Georgia truckers, port workers, and Merchant Marines, as a result of changing the transportation medium for the petroleum to pipeline from truck.

The proposed pipeline would carry 167,000 barrels a day of refined petroleum – crossing the Savannah River, four other major watersheds in Georgia (Ogeechee, Altamaha, Satilla, and St. Mary’s), the upper reaches of the Okefenokee watershed, and countless freshwater, tidal, and brackish wetlands. These aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems through which the pipeline would pass are home to diverse numbers of rare and endangered species, as well as sportfish and notable forest habitats. Much of the area is underlain by extensive karst rock deposits, and as such, is especially at risk for groundwater contamination.

Pipeline Push Back

42-inch Pipeline Installation in WV

Example of a 42-inch Pipeline Installation in WV

A fight against the pipeline is being waged between the public and Kinder Morgan. Opponents of the pipeline, such as the group “Push Back The Pipeline,” point out contradictions between Kinder Morgan’s rhetoric and the actual situation. For example, although the pipeline will run underground, protected from surface disturbance, should it rupture, the spilled petroleum could still have major impacts on coastal rivers that drain through wetlands, marshes, and into the Atlantic Ocean. Although 80% of landowners approached by Kinder Morgan for rights-of-way agreed to sign leases, it turns out that none of them were given the option not to sign. Kinder Morgan surveyors also trespassed on landowner property in the proposed right-of-way without any permission to be there. Kinder Morgan asserts that the pipeline will reduce reliance on foreign oil, when, in fact, the US is already a net exporter of petroleum products. Kinder Morgan also claims that the need for this oil will only increase, when statistics show that Georgia’s energy demands peaked in 2002, and have fallen 18% between 2005 and 2012 (data from Property owners along the proposed pipeline route are no strangers to spills, either. Kinder Morgan claims that pipelines are the safest method for transporting fuel. As recently as December 2014, however, Kinder Morgan’s Plantation Pipeline in Belton, SC – the location where Palmetto is proposed to start – spilled at least 360,000 gallons of fuel into the ground. Only half of the spilled fuel was recovered.

Opposition to the project is not following party lines. In May of 2015, Georgia’s Republican governor, Nathan Deal, vowed to fight the project in court. Similarly, the Georgia Department of Transportation rejected the proposal, stating that it was not in the public interest, and therefore, seizing the right-of-way by eminent domain was not an acceptable strategy for Kinder Morgan to pursue.

Another formidable opponent of the project is William S. Morris III, a powerful media magnate who owns newspapers in Jacksonville, Savannah, and Augusta and has been providing continual coverage of the controversy. Morris also owns more than 20,000 acres directly along the pipeline route, and could potentially lose an 11- mile corridor of land to eminent domain if the pipeline project is approved.

In late February 2016, a Georgia House subcommittee approved a moratorium on use of eminent domain on petroleum pipelines. Eminent domain would allow Kinder Morgan to take a 50-foot-wide strip of land for the pipeline right-of-way, whether or not the private citizens owning that land were in favor. The bill now moves on to a full committee. Georgia state law also requires that petroleum companies must prove a project meets guidelines of “public necessity” before eminent domain could ever move ahead.

Although Kinder Morgan hopes to see the pipeline built and in service by December 2017, critical components, such as a complete right-of-way, are far from finalized.

See the recent documentary created about the Palmetto Pipeline here:

At What Cost? Pipelines, Pollution & Eminent Domain in the Rural South from Mark Albertin on Vimeo.