ExxonMobil Faulted on Yellowstone Oil Spill Response

Although ExxonMobil had publicly presented itself as having expeditiously disclosed how it stopped this weekend’s 1,000-barrel <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/oil_spills">Yellowstone River oil spill in Montana, new details disagree.

According to MSNBC, federal documents confirm that it took the oil giant about twice as long as it said to completely seal off the damaged pipeline that burst over the weekend, dumping an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil—163,000 liters—in Montana and into the Yellowstone River.

The response data was released late yesterday when the Department of Transportation ordered ExxonMobil to put the 20-year-old duct even lower in the riverbed, said MSNBC, which noted that the duct that deploys about 40,000 oil barrels daily to a Billings refinery was buried about 5 to 8 feet underground.

Federal regulators also ordered ExxonMobil to implement other safety improvements, including to conduct a risk assessment at the points where the line crosses a waterway.

Meanwhile, DOT records state that the burst pipeline was not completely shut down for about 56 minutes after Friday’s break, which is longer than the 30 minutes ExxonMobil officials originally stated to federal officials and Montana’s governor, Governor Brian Schweitzer, said MSNBC.

ExxonMobil is required to submit a “restart” plan through the DOT before the line can be used to transport crude oil, noted MSNBC.

ExxonMobil claims that the discrepancy could have occurred based on information that was given to the agency by the company and because Gary Pruessing, ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. president, spoke without notes when talking with Governor Schweitzer, reported MSNBC. “Clearly our communication with the regulator (DOT) is the one that we’ve got precision on,” spokesman Alan Jeffers said, quoted MSNBC.

This was not the first time the company would have to clarify prior statements in recent days. Just prior to correcting its original statement on the pipe shutdown, ExxonMobil said—under what MSNBC described as political pressure—that the leak could extend well beyond the original 10-mile estimate it provided of the worst impacted area. It seemed, said MSNBC, that the company originally minimized what government officials first estimated.

MSNBC recently 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. Now, Governor Schweitzer, who spoke with Exxon and federal agencies overseeing the accident’s response, said that Montana will have the final say on when the cleanup is completed. “The state of Montana is going to stay on this like the smell on a skunk,” Governor Schweitzer told Reuters by telephone, quoted MSNBC.

About 200 people were evacuated on Saturday over fumes and potential explosions. The pipe broke at approximately 11:30 Friday night. 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.

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