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Colonial pipeline group personnel and emergency workers search for a liquid gas leak along Shoal Creek near the suck Creek boat ramp on Sunday, January 8, 2017.

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Crews continue search for reported Colonial Pipeline leak in Chattanooga

Crews continued searching Sunday for a suspected gasoline leak in the Colonial Pipeline along Shoal Creek, near the Tennessee River at Suck Creek Road.

Colonial Pipeline crews planned to work through the night Sunday to track the possible leak that triggered a rapid response from first responders and the pipeline company Saturday night.

On Saturday, Chattanooga Fire Department assistant chief Danny Hague described it as a "very small" leak of gasoline. Crews had not found the source as of Sunday afternoon, according to Colonial.

A company representative at the scene could not comment, but spokesman Don Pozin said by phone a news conference is expected Monday morning.

Workers focused their attention Sunday on a stretch of the pipeline that runs under rocky, wooded terrain just north of Shoal Creek's confluence with the river.

Crews used an excavator to uncover portions of the pipeline for inspection as a skimmer truck idled nearby, ready to suck oil out of the water if necessary.

Dozens of trucks from Colonial Pipeline, their contractors and the Chattanooga Fire Department dotted the area around the suspected leak, reported by an area resident who smelled gasoline.

Hazardous materials teams from Hamilton County Emergency Management and the Chattanooga Fire Department placed containment booms Saturday at the spot where the creek joins the river. That containment boom and an additional containment boom in Shoal Creek remained in place Sunday.

Colonial Pipeline, based in Alpharetta, Ga., operates 5,599 miles of pipelines, transporting more than 100 million gallons daily of gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and other hazardous liquids in 13 states and the District of Columbia, according to company filings.

A September leak along the pipeline in rural Alabama spilled between 252,000 and 336,000 gallons of gasoline, leading to a rise in gas prices across the South during repairs. In November, an explosion near the same location occurred when a track hoe struck the pipeline, igniting gasoline and sending flames and thick black smoke soaring over a forest in northern Alabama, Colonial said. One worker was killed and five were injured.

And Chattanooga is no stranger to spills tied to the Colonial Pipeline Co. over the last few decades, newspaper archives show.

In 1979, the Chattanooga Times reported on a 300,000-gallon Colonial oil spill at what was then the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant. The area is now home to Volkswagen Chattanooga and other suppliers and manufacturers and to the Enterprise South Nature Park.

At the time, Ted Barnett, regional manager for Colonial, said the clean-up effort would likely cost $40,000 to $50,000.

He said, "When you get a spill like this, cost is really secondary. Whatever it takes, we'll do it."

Crews used skimmers to suck the oil from the water's surface, sometimes at a rate of almost 600 gallons an hour.

Another Colonial spill occurred on Lookout Mountain in 1996 when either lightning or a power line arc melted through the pipeline during an ice storm. At the time, Colonial representatives described the spill as "an act of God."

Most of the oil from that spill, an estimated 63,000 gallons, was never recovered.

Officials believe 60,000 gallons went into an underground sinkhole over the course of several days, soaking into the soil and caverns below and causing the National Park Service to close several caves because of dangerous fuel-oil fumes.

Then, in 2012, 500 gallons of gasoline spilled from an underground pipeline in Moccasin Bend about 1,000 feet from the Tennessee River.

Colonial shut down that line and a second nearby distillate pipeline immediately for safety reasons.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact staff writer David Cobb at dcobb@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.

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