Attorney Fights for Cleanup of SC’s Largest Gasoline Spill
MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. – RPWB attorney Katie McElveen recently helped a national pipeline safety group prepare an amicus brief supporting a lawsuit to clean up one of the largest gasoline pipeline spills in South Carolina history.
In late 2014, residents of Belton followed the strong smell of gasoline to discover that a pipeline spanning from Louisiana to Washington D.C, had ruptured and spilled 369,000 gallons of gas, leaving dead plants and oil sheens in nearby creeks and the Savannah River.
Two years later, when it became clear that the owner of the pipeline, Kinder Morgan, had failed to adequately clean up the site, two environmental groups – Upstate Forever and Savannah Riverkeeper – filed a lawsuit under the Clean Water Act.
In April 2017, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed the conservation groups’ case, finding that the spill was not a violation of the Clean Water Act because the pipeline was patched and the gasoline had not spilled directly into surface waters.
The two environmental groups appealed the ruling to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On behalf of the Pipeline Safety Trust, McElveen prepared a friend of the court brief arguing the spill was a violation of the Clean Water Act because there is a direct hydrologic connection between where the rupture occurred and the waterways protected under the Act. The gasoline spilled uphill from two creeks that flow into the Savannah River. Gas from the spill seeped into the soil and flows through the groundwater into the two creeks.
Because approximately 160,000 gallons of gasoline has not been recovered from the spill site, petroleum continues to flow into the creeks and river. When the environmental groups returned to the site about 18 months after the spill, they found that the area still reeked of gasoline, and protective booms that were previously installed were so neglected that plants had taken root in them. Water testing determined that the pollution levels were actually higher than in 2015, suggesting more of the petroleum has now made its way into the creeks.
McElveen hopes her pro-bono work will result in the full cleanup of the pipeline spill and that it will contribute to case law used to protect waterways throughout the country.
“As a South Carolina native, protecting our waterways is an issue that is dear to my heart,” said McElveen.
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