Colonial controls a 5,500 mile underground pipeline through 13 states, spanning from Houston to Linden, N.J., pumping 100 million gallons a day.
“Started in 1962, a joint venture at that time of nine oil companies, and for all those years we’ve been serving the citizens of Cobb County, Georgia, the Southeastern United States and the Northeastern seaboard states with fuels for their vehicles and for aviation, military installations, and now more than 50 million consumers rely on Colonial to transport fuels,” said Sam Whitehead, Colonial’s government & public affairs manager.
Gov. Nathan Deal gave a tip of the hat to the company on the occasion of its golden anniversary.
“As a strong supporter of a petroleum industry that capitalizes on resources in our own backyards, I extend my congratulations to Georgia’s own Colonial Pipeline Company for their 50 years of service,” Deal said. “Colonial’s emphasis on public and environmental safety as priority No. 1 has served the company well as the leading carrier of refined petroleum products in the country. I wish Colonial 50 more years of success, right here in Georgia.”
It takes about 14 to 18 days for refined products to travel through the pipeline from Houston to New York harbor. The product moves at about three to eight miles per hour depending on the size of the pipe, line pressure and density of the liquid.
The Austell campus, or “tank farm,” officially called Atlanta Junction, is a 160 acre operating facility that holds what look like 33 wide grain silos, but are in fact bladders that hold the product. The largest tank on the facility has a working capacity of 7.25 million gallons.
Staffed by 37, the facility is capable of holding 3.5 million barrels at capacity with one barrel equaling 42 gallons.
On average, the Austell facility moves 600,000 barrels in and out daily.
An independent lab across the street is set up to test the quality for customer satisfaction.
Colonial owns the adjacent Dogwood Golf Course which it uses as a buffer property.
Two pipelines serve Georgia: Colonial and Houston-based Plantation Pipe Line Company, which is about a third of Colonial’s size. These two systems transport almost all the gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel and light heating oils used in Georgia.
More than 70 percent of the fuel that comes into Georgia comes through Colonial from refineries in the Gulf Coast, Whitehead said.
Seventy percent of the fuel used by Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport also comes from Colonial.
The 730 employee Alpharetta-based company delivers over 60 percent of the liquid fuel supply to Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Delaware.
The steel pipes, which are usually three feet below ground in rural areas and four and below in urban areas, are well marked to help prevent damage, primarily from digging. Markers are located at frequent intervals along the right of way. Internal inspection tools called “pigs” are periodically pushed by the flowing product through the lines to look for potential issues that can then be addressed before becoming a problem. Colonial also conducts low flying aircraft flights to monitor the line from the sky.
Whitehead said pipeline is the only feasible method for transporting vast quantities of petroleum products the nation requires given that replacing even a modest-sized pipeline would require 750 tanker truck loads per day, at a frequency of one load every two minutes, around the clock.
The different kinds of petroleum products shipped through out the pipeline are loaded in the pipe as batches with no separators. High speed pumps move the liquid through. Principles of hydraulics keep the batches from blending with each other.
The pumps and valves are remotely controlled from computerized central control centers. The product is loaded into Colonial’s pipeline from the Gulf Coast refineries, traveling along the way and extracted at tank farms like the one in Austell. The product is then loaded in trucks and eventually taken to gas stations.
Colonial employs more than 300 people in Georgia. The company pays over $7 million per year in property, income and other taxes, Whitehead said.
Colonial has 1,000 miles of pipeline in Georgia, stretching from Bremen, Georgia, to Belton, South Carolina and from Bainbridge, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tenn.
Colonial has five owners: Houston-based Shell Pipeline, Wichita-based Koch Industries, Palo Alto-based Keats Pipeline Investments, Australia-based Industry Funds Management, and Canada-based Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec.
Cobb Board of Commissioners Chairman Tim Lee called Colonial a tremendous asset to the community.
“We believe they are wonderful corporate neighbors and have always had corporate stewardship as part of their mission, and we appreciate that,” Lee said. “We are very, very pleased that they’re 50 years strong and have plans to continue to grow and contribute to a major significant important commodity to not only Cobb County but to the country, and they execute that well, so we’re pleased and happy and wish them a grand, happy 50th anniversary.”