The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has once again sided with Greenville-based nonprofit Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper in their federal Clean Water Act lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, denying the company’s request for a rehearing in the case concerning the rupture of its Plantation Pipeline in Anderson County.
“Kinder Morgan continues to try to avoid its responsibility to the citizens of Anderson County, and we are pleased that the court confirmed its earlier decision,” said Andrea Cooper, executive director of Upstate Forever. “Fossil fuel pipelines threaten waterways across the Upstate of South Carolina. We will hold companies accountable when they fail to maintain their pipelines and are responsible for ongoing pollution.”
Last year, Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper filed a lawsuit against Kinder Morgan, claiming the Houston-based pipeline operator had violated the Clean Water Act when a rupture in the Plantation Pipeline leaked about 370,000 gallons of gasoline and petroleum products near Lewis Drive north of Belton in 2014. The suit claims the spill has seeped into two streams that flow into Broadway Lake, Lake Secession, Lake Russell, and the Savannah River.
In 2017, a U.S. District Court in South Carolina dismissed the suit, which calls for Kinder Morgan to pay more than $30 million in civil penalties. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, however, ruled in April that Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper could proceed in federal court with their lawsuit against Kinder Morgan.
The case will now return to the U.S. District Court in South Carolina, according to Frank Holleman, a senior attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center, the nonprofit law firm representing Upstate Forever and the Savannah Riverkeeper.
“The Court of Appeals’ latest decision to deny rehearing is another win for clean water, not only for the Belton community in Anderson County but also for citizens throughout the Southeast,” he said. “Local citizens can now ask the court to require Kinder Morgan to stop the petroleum pollution of Anderson County’s waters that flow to the Savannah River.”
Melissa Ruiz, director of corporate communications for Kinder Morgan, said her company disagrees with the recent decision by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and intends to “seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Kinder Morgan currently submits monthly reports to the state and has spent more than $4 million for remediation and repairs, according to Ruiz.
Last year, for instance, the company installed monitoring wells and recovery trenches in Browns Creek to prevent pollutants from migrating downstream. It also installed more than 40 biosparging wells at the spill site. The wells inject oxygen into the polluted groundwater and feed microorganisms that break down contaminants.
Kinder Morgan has recovered more than 220,000 gallons of gasoline and excavated and disposed of more than 2,800 tons of gasoline-impacted soil offsite since the spill was discovered in 2014, according to Ruiz.
Shelley Robbins, energy and state policy director at Upstate Forever, said the company’s cleanup effort has “failed” and that more than 100,000 gallons of gasoline and diesel fuel remain in the surrounding soil, groundwater, and area streams.
“Pumping air into the wells and then bubbling the stream is not doing the job,” Robbins told the Greenville Journal earlier this year. “Unless effective additional action is taken, this spill will be polluting the river system for years to come.”