Rep. Gerald E. “Gerry” Connolly (D-Va.) has returned to an issue that not only hits close to home but long ago put him on a path to politics: leaky oil tanks.
Earlier this week, Connolly submitted a bill that would require the federal government to shut down any petroleum storage facility that repeatedly leaks oil in a residential neighborhood or contaminates its groundwater.
The Protecting Neighborhoods from Oil Pollution Act of 2011, as the bill filed Tuesday is called, would modify the Federal Water Pollution Control Act by requiring the closure of any plant located within one mile of 100 or more dwellings that has had two or more discharges within a 10-year period. The measure would also shutter any oil storage facility that caused groundwater contamination affecting 100 or more dwellings. The bill, HR3426, would require the plants to close even if the discharges resulted from an act of God, war or negligence by the federal government.
Although the proposed law would affect any tank farm in the United States, Connolly’s bill clearly takes aim at the storage depot in his backyard: The Pickett Road Tank Farm, which has been fueling tanker trucks since the 1960s in the eastern part of the city of Fairfax.
Back in 1991, Connolly was president of the Mantua Citizens Association when a large, underground spill from the tank farm seeped into his Fairfax County neighborhood, Washington Post staff writer John Ward Anderson reported. There have been other leaks too, including one in January 2010 that spilled more than 7,000 gallons of diesel fuel on the premises.
This year, the Virginia General Assembly, led by Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Del. David Bulova (D-Fairfax), moved to tighten regulations on the above-ground storage depot. The law, signed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell in May, requires that all tank farms, even those built before 1992, must follow up-to-date safety codes, such as ensuring that their tanks have double hulls.
But one of the companies with operations there suggested Connolly’s bill may go too far.
“I think it’s important the environment be protected and people’s neighborhoods need to be protected, but if you closed it down you’d also have to deal with how you distribute motor fuels in Northern Virginia, ” said Sam Whitehead, a spokesman for Colonial Pipeline Co., which operates a pipeline at the tank farm.
Five companies — Citgo, a Houston-based petroleum company; Motiva, a Houston-based venture, which is jointly owned by Shell Oil and Saudi Arabia Refining Inc.; TransMontaigne Inc., a Denver-based fuel supply firm; Buckeye Partners LP, a publicly traded pipeline company headquartered in Houston; and Colonial Pipeline — now use the site, according to city Fire Marshal Andrew S. Wilson.
Wilson, whose office is charged with inspecting the depot, estimates that the tank farm supplies about 40 percent of the motor fuel used by the region’s service stations.
Wilson said workers have recovered nearly 7,500 gallons from the Jan. 28, 2010 leak of diesel fuel from TransMontaigne’s terminal. The leak was caused by an rupture in underground piping; none of the spillage left the site, Wilson said. The underground piping has since been replaced with above-ground piping that allows for easier inspection.
Wilson said the commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Quality recently formed an advisory panel — of which he’s a member — on implementing the new Virginia law.
A spokeswoman for Buckeye Partners said the company would not have any comment on the measure. Calls to other companies that use the terminal were not immediately returned.