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Colonial Pipeline

EPA ID# VAD988225876

NPL Status: Not on NPL

12000 Bownan Towne Dr
Reston, VA 22091
Fairfax County

Public files (Administrative Record) on EPA’s actions and decisions for this site can be examined at the following location:

U.S. EPA Region 3


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Administrative Record

National Information

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On March 28, 1993, a rupture occurred in an oil pipeline in Fairfax County Virginia, sending a 100-foot plume of fuel oil into the air. The high-pressure pipeline, owned by the Colonial Pipeline Company, released over 400,000 gallons of oil to the environment before it could be shut down and fully drained. The rupture resulted in one of the largest inland oil spills in recent history, the oil affected nine miles of the nearby Sugarland Run Creek as well as the Potomac River.

The Fairfax County Fire Department conducted the initial response to the release, quickly notifying the National Response Center (NRC). The NRC initiated the federal response, directed by the On-Scene Coordinator from EPA Region III. A Unified Command System was established under the National Response System and proved successful in coordinating a comprehensive multi-jurisdictional response involving federal, state, and local authorities as well as Colonial Pipeline. The OSC enlisted assistance in the form of personnel and equipment from other federal agencies, primarily the U.S. Coast Guard. State officials provided technical support and information. The Regional Response Team, an incident-specific council of representatives from a variety of relevant federal agencies, provided valuable advice and guidance regarding recovery actions and policy questions

Colonial Pipeline carried out its duties as the responsible party, hiring contractors to perform the containment and recovery actions. Under the direction of the OSC, the contractors secured the source of the release by shutting down the pipeline flow. They then attempted to contain the oil flow along the river through the use of booms, but a sheen had already developed on the Potomac River. As a precaution to protect public health, public water intakes along the Potomac River were closed. Recovery of the oil involved use of skimmers, vacuum trucks, sorbents, and a temporary pipeline to direct recovered oil into tanker trucks. Through these actions, response personnel recovered 372,498 of the 407,436 gallons released.

Throughout the incident, authorities evaluated the oil's actual and potential impact on human health and the environment. The public water intake along the rivers presented the greatest concern, and were promptly shut down. Local drinking water wells were also feared to be at risk of contamination but sampling of these supplies proved that they were not effected. The greatest problem for area residents turned out to be fuel odor. EPA received many complaints from citizens about strong fuel odors, which led to the closing of nearby Great Falls National Park. Forty-one residents were evacuated from their homes as a precautionary measure. EPA monitored air quality to identify and mitigate any serious health risks associated with the oil fumes.

Fish kills occurred in Sugarland Run, although no other serious impacts on area wildlife were reported. County animal control set up shelters and recovery activities to restore the animals that were effected.

The response to the Colonial Pipeline Spill demonstrates the smooth operation of the National Response System in which federal, state, and local authorities were able to coordinate personnel and equipment in an efficient manner to recover the spilled oil. Participants were able to identify several areas for improvement in evaluating the activities, however. One recommendation suggested developing a directory of water intakes in the area to expedite containment in the event of an oil release. A second recommendation addressed the need for better communication with personnel downstream from a release. Other technical issues concerned improvements in skimming and dam systems to increase the speed and ease of recovery.

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