Wednesday, July 06, 2011

ExxonMobil Yellowstone River Spill Taints World-Class Trout Stream

Jul 6: Early in the morning on July 2, ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) discovered an undetermined amount of crude oil was released into the Yellowstone River in Montana, from an EMPCo pipeline. The release originated from a 12" crude pipeline operated by EMPCo that runs from Silver Tip, MT to Billings, MT. ExxonMobil reported that the pipeline was shutdown and the segment where the release occurred has been isolated. All appropriate state and Federal authorities were notified.
    On July 3, EMPCo indicated that it had expanded its clean up operation and was bringing in experts from across the country to clean up the oil. EMPCo President Gary Pruessing said in Billings, headquarters for the response effort, said, "We will stay with the cleanup until it is complete, and we sincerely apologize to the people of Montana for any inconvenience the incident is creating." EMPCo reported that the amount of oil released is estimated to be between 750 and 1,000 barrels. Air quality monitoring throughout the impacted area is ongoing and has confirmed no danger to public health. Municipal water systems have been notified to monitor water quality but no reports of impacts have been received to date. Oil has been found as far as five miles down the river from the pipeline location and additional reports of oil sightings are being investigated.
    ExxonMobil said it is working to coordinate the cleanup with local authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, county commissioners, local response organizations and International Bird Rescue. For the purposes of the response, the area downriver of the spill has been organized into four zones. Cleanup activities are focused in the first two zones -- Laurel to Duck Creek Bridge, a distance of seven miles from the spill location, and Duck Creek Bridge to Johnson Lane (12 miles). Reconnaissance and evaluation activities are under way in the second two zones -- Johnson Lane to Miles City (144 miles) and Miles City to Glendive (78 miles). By July 4, ExxonMobil reported that more than 280 people are now involved in the response and cleanup effort including ExxonMobil's North America Regional Response Team, the Clean Harbors and ER oil spill response organizations and additional contractors. More than 150 people cleaned up oil along the river banks on the 4th.
        Information from Wikipedia indicates that the Yellowstone River is a tributary of the Missouri River, approximately 692 miles long, in the western United States. Considered the principal tributary of the upper Missouri, the river and its tributaries drain a wide area stretching from the Rocky Mountains in the vicinity of the Yellowstone National Park across the mountains and high plains of southern Montana and northern Wyoming. It is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states. The Yellowstone River is considered to be one of the great trout streams of the world and is officially classed as a blue ribbon stream in Montana from the park to the confluence with the Boulder river east of Livingston and from the mouth of Rosebud creek near Rosebud, Montana to the North Dakota border. The lack of dams along the river provides for excellent trout habitat from high inside Yellowstone Park, downstream through Gardiner, the Paradise Valley, Livingston, and to Big Timber, a stretch of nearly 200 miles (320 km). The Yellowstone varies in width from 74 feet (23 m) to 300 feet (91 m), so fishing is normally done by boat. The most productive stretch of water is through Paradise Valley in Montana, especially near Livingston which produces brown trout, rainbow trout and native cutthroat trout as well as Rocky Mountain whitefish.
    The incident has sparked calls from the House and Senate for investigations and answers. Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-MT) called on ExxonMobil to set up a quick and effective claims process to ensure Montanans impacted by the Yellowstone River oil spill have swift recourse for repayment. At the same time, Baucus pressed ExxonMobil for information on current cleanup efforts and a detailed history of risk evaluations and prevention measures leading up to the pipe rupture. He said, "Priority number one is getting the oil cleaned up quickly and making sure homeowners, businesses, sportsmen and wildlife are made whole. I'm keeping a close eye on ExxonMobil and working with the refinery and local officials to make sure the river is restored and Montanans are paid fairly and quickly for their losses. I'm calling on ExxonMobil to answer some tough questions so we can find out how this accident happened and what needs to be done to make sure something like this it never happens again."
    Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), the Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee said concerns were growing that the pipeline spill "may be larger than previously thought," and called for investigative hearings to be held into the incident and related safety and environmental issues. Markey said, "ExxonMobil has turned parts of the Yellowstone River black with their spilled oil. Just as BP was held to account for their accident in the Gulf of Mexico, ExxonMobil should appear before Congress so that we can examine the holes in oil pipeline safety that led to this incident and how we might prevent another spill in the future."
    Although the House Energy and Commerce Committee has not issued a formal release, a report in The Hill quoted a spokesperson for Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), who said the panel's Energy and Power Subcommittee will hold a hearing on pipeline safety legislation by the end of the month.
    Access links to the ExxonMobil news releases (click here). Access the Wikipedia for extensive information on the Yellowstone River (click here). Access a release from Sen. Baucus including the letter to the ExxonMobil CEO (click here). Access a release from Rep. Markey (click here). Access The Hill report on the House hearing (click here). [*Energy/OilSpill, *Water]