Tuesday, February 14, 2012
(Helena, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio) – The US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) told Montana officials the agency expects to release a report soon on last summer’s crude oil pipeline spill into the Yellowstone River.
The update was delivered to the February meeting of the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council.
PHMSA is wrapping up its Corrective Action Order against ExxonMobil, owner of the Silvertip Pipeline. The CAO essentially tells the company to make the pipeline safe and get rid of systemic problems.
On July 1, 2011, that pipeline broke and spilled 1,500 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River near Laurel in South Central Montana.
Chris Hoidal is regional director for PHMSA in Colorado. He told the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council that PHMSA is waiting for the test results of the broken piece of pipeline removed from the Yellowstone River.
“It’s our intention to close the order as soon as the metallurgical testing is done and we complete the accident investigation,” he says.
The forensics on the broken section of pipe could shed light on what specifically caused the break. Investigators suspect scouring caused by the flooding Yellowstone River contributed to the pipeline break.
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer created the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council following the oil spill to investigate pipelines that cross waterways and make recommendations on how to prevent future spills.
The panel is chaired by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director (DEQ) Richard Opper. He says the council plans to release its draft report by the end of April or early May.
Some members of the public would like absolutes that there will be no future oil pipeline spills in Montana in the future. “I would have say I am one of those people who would like an absolute,” Opper says. “There are no absolutes. As long as we’re going to use oil in this country there are going to be spills occasionally. There are going to be accidents. There are also going to be things that we can do minimize the risk to make sure that the product that does flow - underneath our landscape and across our rivers – we can take steps to make sure that they’re safe.”
ExxonMobil recently made upgrades to shore up its Silvertip line. The company also spent an estimated $115 million to clean up parts of the Yellowstone River, the shoreline, and adjacent lands contaminated with crude following the pipeline break.
The Montana DEQ, meanwhile, is taking public comment until Feb. 21, 2012 on a proposed legal settlement with ExxonMobil Pipeline Company over the oil spill. The Administrative Order of Consent covers monitoring, remediation, as well as penalties and the cost of the cleanup.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
(Billings, MT-YPR) The developers of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline say they already had included safety measures meant to prevent the type of pipeline break that spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil into Montana’s Yellowstone River last month.
TransCanada officials are in Montana this week. The proposed Keystone XL pipeline would stretch from Alberta’s oil tar sand fields to refineries in the United States.
The approximately 1,660-mile long pipeline has been assailed by environmentalists as too risky. Opponents stepped up their criticism following the break in Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip Pipeline near Laurel, MT on July 1, 2011.
TransCanada President of Energy and Pipelines Alex Pourbaix says the Keystone XL project was designed to be the safest pipeline in North America.
“Everyone would acknowledge that Exxon’s incident with the Silvertip Pipeline was very unfortunate,” he says. “At the same time we find it concerning that many people have tried to compare the silvertip incident with the Keystone XL pipeline. And we really do believe that is completely inappropriate.”
Pourbaix says TransCanada will bury its pipeline a minimum 25 feet beneath major river crossings, exceeding current federal regulations. The proposed pipeline would cross three Montana rivers: Milk, Missouri, and Yellowstone.
Pourbaix says TransCanada made no changes to its projects proposal as a result of the Yellowstone River oil spill. Clean-up crews are still in Montana. Exxon Mobil officials are awaiting regulatory approval to rebuild its line.
The oil spill was the latest in a series of spills across the U-S. It brought Congressional scrutiny of the spider web of pipelines across the country, particularly those that cross rivers and streams.
Keystone Pipeline Project Vice President Robert Jones welcomes the increased attention. He’s not worried the spotlight will harm the Keystone XL project.
“And we try to do best practices,” Jones says.
TransCanada officials say their project exceeds current regulations, including: the use heavy wall pipe with an abrasion resistant coating; check valves will be installed at river banks; lower pressure at river crossings; regular monitoring and maintenance, and aerial patrols every two weeks.
The U.S. State Department is charged with overseeing the permit because the pipeline crosses an international border.
A final Environmental Impact Statement is expected to be released this month.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
(Billings, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio) – ExxonMobil officials say its Billings, Montana-based refinery is operating at a reduced capacity following its pipeline break earlier this month. But officials say no employees will be laid off.
The company’s Silvertip Pipeline broke July 1, 2011 and spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the wild and scenic Yellowstone River.
Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Karen Matusic of Dallas says that pipeline is the Billings refinery main supplier of US and Canadian crude.
“What we’re doing right now is we’re continuing to work very diligently to identify all available crude supply to allow us to continue operating the refinery,” she says. “What we’re doing now is we’re getting alternative supplies from another pipeline, from truck, and we’re also considering rail deliveries into the refinery.”
Matusic says if any units are idled because of reduced supply, those employees will instead work on maintenance, repair and clean-up.
“Fortunately, we’re able to keep everybody at work,” she says.
US Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) says anytime there is an environmental disaster, like a pipeline bursting, “we always think about the environmental impacts. When in fact there are other impacts too. And we felt that the jobs side of this was very important too. These are good jobs and it’s important that we keep those folks working.”
Tester received a letter from ExxonMobil President Sherman Glass, Jr. assuring that there are no plans to layoff any workers at the Billings refinery in the foreseeable future.
The farmer from Big Sandy, MT, says another concern from the oil pipeline break or reduced operations at the Billings refinery is any potential impact on gasoline prices.
“I had the question whether it will drive gas prices up,” Tester says. “I don’t believe it should. I hope it does not.”
Matusic says while she can’t directly comment on gasoline prices, “the good thing is we expect to meet all of our gasoline contract commitments for the foreseeable future despite the impacts to the refinery operations as a result of the pipeline breach.”
She says the company will also be getting gasoline supplies from other areas.
“We’re doing all we can to mitigate the impact on the local consumers, on the local economy, and the local workforce,” Matusic says. “Which is why this pipeline (Silvertip) is so critical to ensuring crude supply to our refinery. So expediting the restoration and restart of this pipeline is a key solution for the longer term.”
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in the US Department of Transportation is the regulatory agency that oversees pipelines, like Silvertip.
Teams continue work to assess and clean-up damage from the pipeline break earlier this month near Laurel, MT. Over the weekend, state and federal officials oversaw ExxonMobil Pipeline Company’s removal of all of the residual oil and oily water mixture from the two segments of broken pipe on either side of the break location from the Yellowstone River. Officials say that eliminated the threat of secondary releases of crude from the ruptured pipeline.
With dropping river levels, teams have been able to launch boat. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has reported 19 animals have been seen, but not yet been captured. This includes a bald eagle. Karen Nelson of the USFWS says officials are working to capture the eagle so oil can be removed. She says they believe it will not survive the winter unless that oil is washed off.
The Senate Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure has scheduled a hearing on the Yellowstone River oil spill. Montana Senator Max Baucus chairs that committee.