Burst Pipeline Causes Oil Spill in Yellowstone River

An ExxonMobil pipeline burst over the weekend, dumping some 1,000 barrels of oil—163,000 liters—in Montana and into the Yellowstone River. ExxonMobil’s damaged pipeline runs under the river near Billings, Montana, in the south-central area of the state, noted MSNBC.

The <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/oil_spills">Yellowstone River oil spill has forced the downstream to be shut down; about 200 people were evacuated on Saturday over issues with fumes and potential explosions. The pipe broke at approximately 11:30 Friday night, leaking for about a-half hour, said ExxonMobil spokeswoman, Pam Malek, wrote MSNBC.

The cause of the accident remains unknown; however, according to Duane Winslow, a disaster and emergency services coordinator for Yellowstone County, speaking to NBC station KULR8, it is likely that high water this spring eroded the pipe. Brent Peters, Laurel’s fire chief, said the 12-inch pipe’s break took place about one mile south of Laurel, added MSNBC.

The Edmonton Journal noted that the bulk of the spill seems be concentrated within 16 kilometers of the leak site, between Laurel and Billings, said Gary Pruessing, the president of Exxon’s pipeline unit. ExxonMobil said it was deploying its North American Regional Response Team, said MSNBC, adding that, originally, about 140 cleanup workers were expected at the site within 36 hours. “Nobody’s been able to lay their eyes on the pipe,” Peters said quoted MSNBC. “Right now the Yellowstone River is at flood stage. The bank isn’t stable enough for anybody to get close,” added Peters.

Now, says the Edmonton Journal, ExxonMobil is increasing the number of workers being deployed to remove the heavy crude oil that is polluting Montana’s Yellowstone River. “They’ve been there since Friday and we have more people who are arriving around the clock,” Exxon spokeswoman Claire Hassett said, quoted MSNBC. The deployed team includes ExxonMobil’s North America regional response team, the Clean Harbors oil spill response organization, and other contractors, Exxon said, wrote the Edmonton Journal, which noted that 80 more workers are expected at the site today.

MSNBC described oil as having washed ashore from Laurel to a site called Pompeys Pillar, about 50 miles away, as of Saturday, according to CBS affiliate KTVQ. The oil sheen was pushed east and, with no dams to stop it before it reaches the Missouri River across from Montana’s border in North Dakota, there’s no telling how far the slick will spread, said MSNBC.

MSNBC spoke to one riverfront resident, Jim Swanson, who complained of a massive 600-foot smear of oil: “Whosever pipeline it is better be knocking on my door soon and explaining how they’re going to clean it up,” he said, describing “globules” of oil. “They say they’ve got it capped off. I’m not so sure,” he added.

Although absorbent material was placed in small parts of the river in Billings and Laurel, nothing appears to be happening further out and the stench of oil stretched for miles downstream, said MSNBC, which recalled the historic 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound which released millions of gallons of crude oil, killing wildlife and ruining the careers of many who relied on the Sound for their livelihood.

Meanwhile, said the Edmonton Journal, the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is a division of the U.S. Transportation Department, said it cited seven safety violations along the 112-kilometre Silvertip line in its warning July 2010 letter to Exxon. “They responded to all items and the case is closed,” said Patricia Klinger, a spokeswoman for the department, quoted the Edmonton Journal.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer said, “We are dealing with one of the most phenomenal trout fisheries in America…. If it means we are going to have 10,000 people with toothbrushes scrubbing every rock to make sure that the Yellowstone River is wholly restored, we will,” quoted the Edmonton Journal. Trout fishing generates $400 million annually for the state, Governor Schweitzer noted.

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