July 4, 2011

Cleanup Underway At Yellowstone After Oil Spill

A pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River in south central Montana ruptured some time between late Friday night and early Saturday morning, leaking hundreds of barrels of oil into the river's waters and forcing evacuations in the area, various media outlets were reporting Sunday.

The pipeline, which is owned by ExxonMobil, suffered a breach that has leaked up to 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil, company spokespeople told Reuters and the Associated Press (AP) this weekend. The AP reports that the leak lasted for approximately half an hour before it was shut down, resulting in "the temporary evacuation of hundreds of residents along a 20-mile stretch of the river."

According to BBC News, the accident occurred "downstream from the famed Yellowstone National Park." Specifically, Anahad O'Connor of the New York Times says that the breach occurred roughly 10 miles west of Billings, Montana and also coated coastal areas near the town of Laurel with "shiny patches of oil" and forcing temporary evacuations there due to the threat of an explosion.

"Exxon found the leak from the EMPCo (ExxonMobile Pipeline Company) pipeline early on Saturday morning," Ben Berkowitz of Reuters reported Sunday. "The pipeline runs only in Montana, from Silver Tip to Billings"¦ The cause of the leak remains unclear."

Olivia Katrandjian of ABC News noted that Exxon cleanup crews were on their way to the site as of Sunday morning, and the company also told Berkowitz that Clean Harbors, an environmental cleanup and hazardous waste disposal firm, was already on-site contributing to recovery efforts.

On Saturday, EMPCo released a statement in which they said that the company "deeply regrets" the release of oil into the river and that they were "working hard with local emergency authorities to mitigate the impacts of this release on the surrounding communities and to the environment."

The pipeline, "a 12" crude pipeline"¦ that runs from Silver Tip, MT to Billings, MT," had been shutdown and the specific location of the breach had been isolated, the company also announced.

"All appropriate state and federal authorities have been alerted," EMPCo added. "At this early stage, we have no information on the cause of the incident, and we are working to determine the amount of oil released"¦ A claims number 1-888-382-0043 has also been established to assist individuals who might have been impacted by this event."

According to Berkowitz, the company had received more than 40 calls as of 1:36 EDT.

In comments made to the AP, Laurel fire chief Brent Peters speculated that the high water levels in the river might have exposed the pipeline, leading to it being hit by debris. Peters stated that the Yellowstone was at its highest peak in "at least 15 years."

Regardless of the cause, the focus now is on cleanup efforts.

"We are bringing in experts from across the country to clean up the oil," EMPCo President Gary Pruessing said in a statement on Sunday. "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."


Image 2: Map of the Yellowstone River watershed. Credit: Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0) 


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