Flood Surge Raises Fear Of Montana Oil Pipleline Rupture Spread – Same Pipeline Shut Down In May 2011For Safety Reasons


LAUREL, Mont. (AP) — Crews cleaning up an oil spill on the Yellowstone River faced difficult conditions today as the scenic waterway rose above flood stage and stoked fears that surging currents could push crude into undamaged areas and back channels vital to the river’s prized fishery.

Conditions on the swollen Yellowstone have hampered efforts to find the cause of Friday’s break in the 12-inch pipeline that spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude oil to date.

The river also has been flowing too swiftly for crews to reach some oiled areas, as forecasters said mountain snowmelt was adding to the high water levels. Officials speculated that the surge may push oil into areas that haven’t yet been damaged.

Much of the riverbank also is covered with dense underbrush, making it difficult to walk the shoreline. Most observations have been made through aerial flights.

One homeowner, Robert Castleberry, said he had been out of his house since Saturday because of dangerous fumes from oil that the river pushed across his yard and into the crawlspace beneath his house.

Castleberry’s wife suffers from heart disease and the fumes gave her difficulty breathing, he said. While he appreciated the company promising to cover the couple’s immediate expenses, the 64-year-old retired fuel truck driver was doubtful workers would be able to clean up the black, gooey film that laced through the underbrush along the river.

Exxon’s been nothing but 100 percent with us,” he said. “But when you get into brush that thick, that’s going to be virtually impossible to clean.”

Company and federal officials said they have only seen oil about 25 miles downstream from the site of the break near Laurel. But Gov. Brian Schweitzer said he believes some has traveled hundreds of miles to North Dakota.

“At seven miles per hour, some oil is already in North Dakota. That’s a given,” Schweitzer said. “I’m asking everyone to get out there and report what you see on the river.”

Representatives of Exxon Mobil and the Environmental Protection Agency said they had no reports of oil beyond the town of Huntley.

Company officials said they were concentrating cleanup in that area, but have acknowledged the scope of the leak could extend far beyond the 10-mile stretch that they initially said was the most affected area. Sherman Glass, Exxon’s president of refining and supply, said crews have identified 10 places where oil has pooled in the heaviest amounts between Laurel and Huntley.

Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing has said the company is not limiting the scope of the cleanup to the immediate site. Exxon planned to test the river’s conditions with a jet boat, with eight more on standby if the launch is successful, Glass said.

Water-quality tests downstream of the spill site began Monday, with more planned, according to EPA spokesman David Ostrander.

Pruessing said today for the first time that it took a half-hour to shut down and seal off the ruptured Silvertip pipeline after workers spotted a dip in pressure.

To prevent a repeat of the disaster, Schweitzer has ordered a review of all pipelines that cross major and minor rivers in the state. Officials will look at the pipes’ age, location of shutoff valves and whether they are buried just below the river bottom like the broken line under the Yellowstone.

He said there are 88 such pipeline crossings, and that he would petition federal regulators to shut down or correct any deficient ones.

Modern pipelines can be buried as much as 25 feet beneath bodies of water; Exxon Mobil’s 20-year-old Silvertip line was 5 to 8 feet below the bottom of the Yellowstone.

Company officials said they were considering burying the line deeper when it is repaired.

The Silvertip line had been temporarily shut down in May after Laurel officials raised concerns that it could be at risk as the Yellowstone started to rise. The company restarted the line after a day, following a review of its safety record.

The pipeline burst upstream from a refinery in Billings, where it delivered 40,000 barrels of oil a day. The cause has not been determined, but company and government officials speculated that high waters in recent weeks may have scoured the river bottom and exposed the pipeline to damaging debris.

The rupture site is downstream of Yellowstone National Park, which is about away. Officials said the river portion in the park is not under threat.

But the stretch of the Yellowstone where the spill occurred is home to sauger, bass catfish, goldeye, trout and, farther downstream below Miles City, native pallid sturgeon.

Schweitzer said he noticed that oil was pooling in areas near banks with slower-moving water, close to islands and cottonwood stands that support the microbes and insects that bring life to the river.

“Those riparian areas are a biological treasure trove. That’s the health and wealth of the river,” he said.

Same pipeline shut down in May, 2011 for safety and flood concerns:


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