Colonial Pipeline, the owner and operator of a major East Coast pipeline involved in two recent Birmingham-area disasters, has a safety record that is substantially worse than many other pipeline companies in the South, Birmingham’s WBHM reports.
The Atlanta-based company, which remains under a federal investigation for a deadly Oct. 31 blast that killed two workers near Helena, Ala., “has a shocking history of what federal regulators call ‘significant incidents,’” WBHM reports, including “gross negligence” that contributed to seven spills releasing 1.45 million gallons of oil in several Southern states.
For that offense, Colonial paid $34 million in fines under the Clean Water Act, which in 2000 was the largest civil penalty paid by a company in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Colonial says it’s improved. However, data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration, the federal agency that regulates pipelines, recorded 185 “significant incidents” in the last decade alone. These incidents caused more than $100 million in property damage, WBHM reports. Collectively, the number of incidents and damages is far more than other pipeline companies operating in the Southeastern U.S.
The fact remains that half of the crude oil pipelines in the U.S. are more than 50 years old, including the 5,500-mile system that breached in the Birmingham area on Sept. 9 and exploded on Oct. 31.
The state of oil pipelines in the U.S. is so poor that the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), which is charged with grading the country’s infrastructure, gave the energy industry a D+ grade. In this condition, U.S. residents likely will continue to see more major gas and oil spills in the future.