Ice complicates clean-up at Yellowstone River pipeline spill

One week after a pipeline spilled nearly 40 000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and contaminated a Montana city’s water supply, clean-up crews are struggling to make progress in their efforts to remove the oil from the partially frozen river.

The site of the pipeline break, six miles upstream from the high-plains city of Glendive, Montana, is almost entirely capped in ice, complicating efforts to retrieve the oil and slowing the response process. The cause of the spill remains under investigation.

According to reports, crews have only been able to recover a small fraction of the oil that spilled into the Yellowstone. Some 274 barrels of oil, or 11 500 gallons, has been recovered: the vast majority of which was inside the broken pipeline.

As the weather warms, crews cannot rely on the ice to remain solid and are unable to bring heavy equipment.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overseeing the clean-up, in co-ordination with local agencies and Bridger Pipeline. Salvin said he was unsure how long the clean-up process would take.

The pipeline is currently shut down. Salvin said the company anticipates re-opening the line on 31 March.

Residents have been advised to run their water for 15 – 20 mins before drinking or cooking with the water. The pipeline company has agreed to give each resident a US$5 credit on their water bill to compensate them for the cost of the water used to flush their systems.

2011 pipeline spill

In related news, Exxon Mobil Corp. must pay a US$1.05 million penalty for safety violations related to a 2011 pipeline break under Montana’s Yellowstone River.

The pipeline was buried beneath the riverbed, but flooding amid a summer snow melt exposed it and stressed it to the breaking point. An estimated 1500 barrels of oil spilled into the river and were carried miles downstream.

Jeffrey Wiese, Associate Administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, upheld a finding that Exxon hadn’t adequately prepared for the possibility that flooding could cause the pipeline to fail – something that had happened to pipelines in the area in the past. Exxon had argued that its line had survived more severe floods intact and it didn’t have reason to believe that the line was in danger.

Edited from various sources by Elizabeth Corner

Sources: The GuardianWall Street Journal

Published on 26/01/2015

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