Lawmakers debate pipelines in South Carolina

WSPA - COLUMBIA, S.C. (WSPA) – While protesters in North Dakota continue to block a pipeline there, South Carolina lawmakers are studying what to do about the future of pipelines here. The state already has two pipelines that cut through the Upstate, with a branch that comes off of one that goes to North Augusta.

The Petroleum Pipeline Study Committee met Wednesday at the Statehouse. Chairman Sen. Tom Young, R-Aiken, says, "We're looking to see what the laws are in this state as it relates to the exercise of eminent domain, whether a natural gas pipeline can use eminent domain and under what circumstances, whether a petroleum pipeline company can use eminent domain and under what circumstances, what are other states doing in this regard?"

They also heard from a representative from Colonial Pipeline, Donald Gardner, who's also the industry's representative on the committee. The Colonial Pipeline runs from Houston, Texas to Linden, New Jersey and is one of the two that crosses South Carolina's Upstate.

In September, there was a leak in the Colonial Pipeline in Alabama. Then at the beginning of November, there was an explosion there that killed one worker. Sen. Young asked Gardner, "How did the Alabama situation happen?"

Talking about the leak in September, he said, "The root cause is unknown right now. We had had aerial patrols several days earlier. Nothing was detected, and there was nothing of indication, in terms of our internal inspection, in terms of a buckle."

He says the second incident, the explosion and fire, may be related to the first, but that's not certain. "The root cause in that incident is still being investigated as well," he told the committee.

Since the Upstate gets most of its gasoline from the pipelines, the shutdown because of the Alabama explosion and fire meant some gas stations ran out of gasoline.

South Carolina has had its own problems with pipeline leaks. In June 1996, the Colonial Pipeline leaked nearly a million gallons of diesel fuel into the Reedy River in Simpsonville, killing an estimated 35,000 fish and other wildlife and causing significant environmental damage, according to the EPA.

Gardner says Colonial made major changes to its policies and procedures after that spill.

In December 2014, the other pipeline that goes through the Upstate, the Plantation Pipeline, leaked 370,000 gallons of gasoline near Belton. Two years later, it's still being cleaned up.

Sen. Young says one thing that makes the debate about pipelines so difficult is that, overall, they're safe, transporting billions of gallons of fuel for years with no problem. But when there is a problem, it can be devastating.

Gardner testified that having the pipelines in the state helps keep gasoline prices low. Transporting a gallon of gas by the Colonial Pipeline costs 3 cents a gallon, compared to 7 to 8 cents a gallon for a tanker ship or barge, 25 cents per gallon to move it by rail, and 39 cents per gallon to move it by truck.

Sen. Young says, "One of the things that we've got to do is determine if we're going to change the laws in South Carolina to allow additional future petroleum pipelines in the state for future motor fuel needs in the state, then what requirements are we going to need to have as it relates to safety and monitoring and oversight?"

One option is to require pipeline companies to be bonded and insured. Colonial has $900 million worth of insurance, Gardner told the committee. But Sen. Young wonders if that would be enough to cover the environmental damage and clean-up from a major spill.

More Stories

Meet the Team

Video Center