WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice has filed a suit against Colonial Pipeline Co. for alleged violations of the Clean Water Act, charging the company spilled about 3 million gallons of oil and petroleum products in nine states, including Maryland.
The suit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Atlanta seeks penalties of $25,000 per each day of violation before 1997, and $27,500 after that date, or $1,000 to $3,000 per barrel spilled.
Justice claims that the company’s 5,300-mile Texas-to-New York pipeline, which is the nation’s longest, is responsible for more than 195 oil spills since 1968 in Maryland, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina, New Jersey and Virginia. The spills were blamed on pipeline corrosion, mechanical damage and operator error.
The one Maryland spill cited in the suit was detected near the Baltimore County community of Hydes on July 20, 1993. In that spill, gasoline leaked into a tributary of Long Green Creek through a crack in Colonial’s North Baltimore Line.
The suit did not say how much was spilled in that incident, but noted that the leak left a sheen on the waterway and a gasoline odor in the area.
Maryland environmental officials were unaware of the suit Thursday. Officials familiar with the 1993 spill could not be contacted Thursday to provide more detail on that incident.
But a spokeswoman for Colonial said that the company has dealt with mechanical problems such as those that caused the Maryland spill.
“We have a new operations philosophy,” said Susan Castiglione, the spokeswoman. “We are committed to zero spills and zero errors.”
Castiglione pointed to statistics that showed an 80 percent reduction in operating errors in recent years.
She said a 1996 spill into South Carolina’s Reedy River was a “watershed” for the company. The government said that about 22,800 barrels of diesel fuel leaked in that incident, which killed a reported 35,000 fish and has been called the largest spill ever in South Carolina.
Castiglione said that Colonial hoped its recent improvements would prompt Justice officials to settle the suit.
“Quite frankly, we were surprised,” that the Justice Department filed suit, she said. “We have been willing to find a solution without litigation.”
She said that Colonial has already paid $13.5 million to states and the federal government as compensation for previous spills.
In addition to compensation, the government suit demands that Colonial remedy pipeline defects such as cracks, corrosion and exposed pipe in accordance with industry performance standards. It also wants the company to upgrade its leak-detection system.
Castiglione said that Colonial is “absolutely committed to total regulatory compliance.”
A spokeswoman at the Justice Department declined to elaborate on the suit Thursday.