Streams

Final Montana Yellowstone River Oil Spill Report To Be Released This Summer

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - 10:30 AM

Oil on the surface of a wetland adjacent to the Yellowstone River (photo by NWFBlog via Flickr)

(Billings, MT – YPR) – The panel charged with reviewing all pipelines that cross Montana’s rivers and streams in the wake of last year’s ExxonMobil oil pipeline break into the Yellowstone River is to issue its final report to Governor Brian Schweitzer this summer.

Schweitzer, D-MT, issued an executive order creating the review council after the Silvertip Pipeline ruptured last July releasing an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River.

Officials think floodwaters scoured the bottom of the Yellowstone River, exposing the pipeline.  Exxon Mobil estimated the spill clean up costs at about $135 million dollars.

Schweitzer directed the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council to assess the risk of ruptures and leaks for each pipeline that crosses a Montana waterway, including the pipeline’s location and the condition of emergency shut-off valves.

“We now have at our fingertips information on where those pipelines are and who they belong to,” says Bonnie Lovelace, regulatory affairs manager for the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. She says key pieces of information are the locations of shut-off valves and whether companies have the latest technology for leak-detection.

“Which means pipeline companies having their control rooms watching those valves and having alarms that tell them that there’s a problem,” she says. Then quickly shutting down the flow.

Lovelace says one result of the review was the creation of an interactive Montana Pipeline Safety Map. She says the data came from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) from information from pipeline owners and operators. She says the database also includes: aerial photographs, topographic maps, property boundaries/ownership, wells, and monitoring stations.

Lovelace says one of the most significant lessons leaned from the Silvertip Pipeline break was the need for information.

“After realizing such a thing could happen, every body’s concerned about could it happen again,” she says. “Are there things we can do to be ready or to essentially prevent a further incident that we had on the Yellowstone River?”

Lovelace says that means working cooperatively with and supporting the U-S Transportation Department’s PHMSA, which regulates the nation’s 2.3 million miles of pipelines.

In the wake of the Silvertip Pipeline rupture, opponents called for tougher state and federal regulations for the proposed Keystone X-L pipeline project. The 1,700 mile pipeline proposal would transport crude from tar sand oil fields in Alberta, Canada and the Bakken Oil Fields in eastern Montana and western North Dakota to refineries on the U-S Gulf coast. The Obama Administration denied TransCanada’s permit last January on the grounds the congressionally mandated deadline did not give federal officials enough time to evaluate the proposal. TransCanada has since offered a shorter pipeline project from Cushing, OK to Port Arthur, TX, including a new route through Nebraska that skirts that state’s environmentally sensitive Sand Hills region and the Ogallala acquifer, the main water source for Nebraska residents.

In Montana, the Pipeline Safety Review Council identified 9,206 pipeline river crossings in Montana. “So we have lots and lots of network of pipelines throughout Montana,” she says. “It’s like a spider web.”

Crews taking water and soil samples during the oil cleanup on the Yellowstone River. Photo by Jackie Yamanaka

The Pipeline Safety Review Council is made up of the directors of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, The Montana Department of Transportation, and the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The panel made 6 recommendations. Public comments on the report will be accepted until June 27, 2012. The Pipeline Safety Review Council plans to deliver a final report to the governor July 18, 2012.

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