Colonial Pipeline’s gas spill in Shelby County, Alabama earlier this month is one of 128 such incidents the company has reported to the federal government since 2010, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A six-year average of 21 spills each year earned Colonial sixth place on the most spills list in the paper’s analysis of 208 pipeline companies from 2010 to 2016.
The report found the ten companies with the most spills were:
- 188: Enterprise Crude Pipeline, Houston, Texas
- 172: Sunoco Pipeline, Aston, Penn.
- 149: Plains Pipeline, Houston, Texas
- 146: Enterprise Products, Houston, Texas
- 134: Magellan Pipeline, Tulsa, Okla.
- 128: Colonial Pipeline, Alpharetta, Ga.
- 109: ConocoPhillips, Houston, Texas
- 106: Buckeye Partners, Breinigsville, Penn.
- 82: Marathon Pipe Line, Findlay, Ohio
- 82: Kinder Morgan Liquid Terminals, Houston, Texas
None of Colonial’s spills since 2010 resulted in injuries or fatalities, but more than half occurred in “high consequence areas,” defined as areas that are densely populated, ecologically sensitive or near drinking water supply, according to the report.
On average, 67 people are injured and 17 are killed each year in pipeline accidents, according to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These accidents most often affect members of the public rather than pipeline employees. The top chart below shows public fatalities from pipeline accidents (blue) and industry employee fatalities (red). The bottom chart shows public injuries from pipeline accidents (blue) and industry employee injuries (red). When someone dies due to the negligence of another, the law allows the heirs and “next of kin” a claim for money damages. This is called a “wrongful death claim.”
Colonial operates tankers, fueling stations and a 5,500-mile network of underground pipelines to transport more than 100 million gallons of refined petroleum products including gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, home heating oil and fuels for the U.S. military to customers in the Southeast.
The Shelby County spill was the company’s largest in 20 years spilling more than 252,000 gallons before the leak was discovered by a mining inspector employed by a different company on September 9. Investigators have not yet determined the cause or the exact amount of gasoline that was leaked. But environmental groups have said the spill narrowly averted a disaster.
The leak occurred in the William R. Ireland Sr. Cahaba River Wildlife Management Area, about 30 miles south of Birmingham. The river is home to 135 known species of fish and 35 species of snails 10 of which are not found anywhere else in the world.
Colonial has said it last inspected the integrity of the pipeline walls in that area in 2014, but that it does weekly fly-overs of the pipeline including one that took place September 7.