Unless you’re living in Huntersville, North Carolina, you may be blissfully unaware that the U.S.’s biggest gasoline spill since 1997 happened this past summer. The slowly-unfolding, little-reported-on saga in the state involves a company controlled by special interests like the Koch brothers and Shell, and a pipeline that has been transporting dirty energy for decades. And the crisis of the Colonial pipeline points to one of the next big issues for American fossil fuel infrastructure: what to do about dangerous, aging pipelines as we move to clean energy. In August, two teenagers riding ATVs around in a nature preserve outside of Huntersville, a suburb north of Charlotte, noticed gasoline gurgling out of the ground and told the town fire department. (Colonial’s owners told some state lawmakers a different story, initially claiming that they’d shut down the pipeline after noticing a pressure drop at another point in the line.) At first, the pipeline company reported that only 63,000 gallons of oil had been spilled, but throughout the fall, that number steadily crept up: 273,000 gallons in September, 311,000 gallons in November. The company now says nearly 1.2 million gallons have been leaked; that number could still rise as more assessments are done.
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