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Transportation Nation

Regulators Soon To Release Reports On Yellowstone River Pipeline Break And Oil Spill

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

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

(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.

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Transportation Nation

Montana ExxonMobil Refinery Operates at Reduced Capacity Following Spill

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

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

(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.

 

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Transportation Nation

Montana Governor Says Pipelines Will Continue To Be Built in Montana

Thursday, July 14, 2011

(Billings, MT – Yellowstone Public Radio) - Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer says pipelines will continue to be part of the state’s landscape -- despite a recent spill--and he hopes regulators will give a green light constructing another one.

On July 1, 2011, an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil into the Wild and Scenic Yellowstone River.

TransCanada wants to build a pipeline -- the Keystone XL -- that will carry crude from oil fields in Alberta Canada, through Montana and on to Cushing, Oklahoma.

Schweitzer, a Democrat, says federal regulators will decide whether the Keystone XL pipeline becomes a reality. He added that it would be an opportunity lost, however, if the pipeline isn’t built.

“The Keystone represents  about 5% of the oil we use in this country. There’s a lot of oil in Alberta,” Schweitzer said. “I would rather buy it from our neighbors to the north than I would from petro-dictators in Africa or the Middle East.”

Schweitzer spoke in Billings Wednesday to a group of landowners who have property along the Yellowstone River affected by the oil spill.

Citing the Yellowstone River oil spill, environmentalists have stepped up opposition to the Keystone XL project

An estimated 79 protesters, some affiliated with the group Rising Tide North America, some with Earth First!, demonstrated on Tuesday at the State Capitol in Helena. They demanded a meeting with Schweitzer. Eventually, the governor agreed to meet with the group in the reception room.

The meeting broke up after someone started playing a piano in the room and about a dozen protesters jumped on the large tables and began dancing and stomping their feet. Schweitzer left, and five protesters were later arrested. They pleaded not guilty in Helena Municipal Court. The protesters were released without bail Tuesday on the conditions that they remain law abiding and stay away from the Capitol.

During a public meeting in Billings the next day, Schweitzer was asked about the incident. “Well, some of the folks who don’t like the Keystone are snappy dressers -- and good dancers, I found out,” he quipped.

He said there will be pipelines built in Montana in the future because the state has oil and cars use it. There is a current oil boom in eastern Montana and northern North Dakota.

“Look, any new pipeline that’s going to be built in Montana is going to be built to the most modern up-to-date standards,” he said. He said the alternative is to transport crude and gasoline by semi trucks or trains, but those are not fail-safe either. “Through time we’ve found that these pipelines are probably safer than some of the other ways of moving oil and gasoline around."

Schweitzer says while no one wants breaks to occur, as long as we continue to use gasoline, citizens in some way accept that accidents can and do happen.

“And so we’re going to hold this company (ExxonMobil) and other companies that have spilled oil, they understand that it’s their liability. They understand that it's their mistake and they’re responsible for this effort. But until we don’t use oil anymore we all have some responsibility here,” Schweitzer says.

ExxonMobil officials said continuing high and fast water in the Yellowstone River is hampering efforts to determine why the Silvertip Pipeline broke. The pipeline carries oil from fields in Wyoming to an ExxonMobil refinery in Billings, Montana.

During a Congressional hearing today on the pipeline break, company officials said if regulators approve, the tentative plan is to replace the Silvertip pipeline with new technology.

Pipelines are regulated by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Adminsitration (PMHSA) in the US Department of Transportation.

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Transportation Nation

Congress Wants Answers in Montana ExxonMobil Pipeline Spill

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Yellowstone River (photo: Splinter Group/Flickr)

(Billings, MT - Yellowstone Public Radio) --An oil pipeline break earlier this month  that sent 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River has soiled river banks and vegetation, and may have impacted the areas fisheries and wildlife.   Continued high, fast-flowing water is hampering assessment efforts -- but a Congressional committee wants answers.

The director of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality sent a letter this week to ExxonMobil's CEO demanding an explanation from the Houston-based company about how much oil spilled into the river. Some estimates put the amount of oil at 42,000 gallons.

At the time of the break water in the Yellowstone River near Billings was running high and fast at or near flood stage. As of yesterday, U-S Environmental Protection Agency officials overseeing the cleanup said between 1-5% of the spilled oil has been recovered.

The Silvertip Pipeliine is a 12-inch diameter pipeline that transports crude from Elk Basin, Wyoming to the ExxonMobile refinery in Billings, Montana. The pipe broke late Friday night near Laurel, Montana, a community about 15 miles west of Billings in south-central Montana.

At this time the cause of the spill has not been determined.

The U-S Transportation Department's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is the primary federal agency that oversees the safety of energy pipelines.

On Thursday, the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials is scheduled to hold a hearing on Silvertip Pipeline break. Witnesses called:  PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman, ExxonMobil President Gary Pruessing, and National Wildlife scientist Douglas Inkley.

In the meantime, cleanup continues.  Falling river levels finally allowed cleanup teams on Monday to launch boats in flooded areas where the river has jumped its banks. Oil has been sighted as far downstream as 90 miles downstream, although the fast moving river and the vast distances is making it difficult for officials to verify landowner sightings.

The response time lag and ExxonMobil's response to landowner concerns prompted the State of Montana to pull staff out of the unified command team directing the cleanup. (http://www.epa.gov/yellowstoneriverspill/) Instead, Governor Brian Schweitzer opened the state's own office. (http://yellowstoneriveroilspill.mt.gov/).

A public meeting is scheduled at 6:30 pm in Laurel, Montana to give area residents an update on the cleanup. Claims officials are also expected to be on site.

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Transportation Nation

TN MOVING STORIES: Los Angeles To Cut Dozens of Bus Routes, Why NYC Women Don't Bike More, and Oil Spill in Montana

Sunday, July 03, 2011

A bike lane being installed on Manhattan's Upper West Side in 2010 (photo by Kate Hinds)

Federal spending on bike and pedestrian infrastructure was $4 a person in 2010 -- and Economix says we should be investing more. (New York Times)

Los Angeles's bus system gets millions of low-income workers to their jobs -- so why is the city cutting bus lines? (New York Times)

Why don't more women bike in NYC? Safety, safety, safety. (New York Times)

A Haaretz editorial characterizes the state of public transportation in Tel Aviv "shameful" and calls for reform.

A ruptured oil pipeline in Montana has spilled 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River. (The Takeaway)

After five years and $12 million, Newark's proposed Triangle Park remains a parking lot -- not the pedestrian-friendly park space it was meant to be. (Star-Ledger)

Chicago's Metra might have double-charged customers who purchased tickets with credit cards last week. (Chicago Tribune)

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