High water hampers efforts to fix pipeline

2011-07-05T00:00:00Z High water hampers efforts to fix pipelineBy ROB ROGERS Billings Gazette Helena Independent Record
July 05, 2011 12:00 am  • 

BILLINGS — As the oil cleanup along the Yellowstone River entered its third day Monday, ExxonMobil officials and investigators from state and federal agencies still are trying to determine what caused the rupture of a sub-river oil pipeline.

In fact, officials have yet to reach the pipeline to see what the leak looks like, or where in the river it is.

“They’re really trying to figure out how to do it,” said Alan Jeffers, a spokesman for ExxonMobil.

With the Yellowstone running as high and as fast as it is, officials aren’t sure when they’ll be able to get to it.

“It’s not a safe place to be right now,” Jeffers said.

Jeffers confirmed that the rupture was to the Silvertip pipeline, the main line from northern Wyoming to the Billings refinery. Pipeline and refinery officials are now “making arrangements” to ship the crude to Billings either by truck or by rail.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees pipelines, last year issued a warning letter to ExxonMobil that cited seven safety violations along the Silvertip pipeline. Two of the warnings faulted the company for its emergency response and pipeline corrosion training.

Transportation department spokeswoman Patricia Klinger told the Associated Press that the company has since responded to the warnings and the case was closed.

An estimated 1,000 barrels of oil — roughly 42,000 gallons — spilled late Friday before the flow of oil from the damaged, 12-inch pipeline could be stopped.

Still, with the line shut down, residual oil in the pipe likely continued to seep out until that section of pipe was completely emptied.

However, at this point, Jeffers said it’s unlikely oil is still leaking out.

“We haven’t seen any for awhile,” he said.

Monday afternoon, much of the cleanup efforts were concentrated on the Thiel Road area east of Laurel, where gobs of black crude cover much of the riverbank, sticking to the tall grass and low-hanging tree limbs. Swirls of red-brown oil sit in pools of standing river water next to the road.

Dozens of white-clad cleanup crews were there, scooping up sticky oil-covered river debris and placing it in black trash bags. Booms and pads were sitting in the water catching oil as it floated in the current.

A small crew at Mystic Park was on hands and knees wiping oil from clumps of grass where the river had receded.

The cleanup area has been organized into four zones, Jeffers said.

Cleanup activities are focused in the first two zones, Laurel to Duck Creek Bridge, a distance of 7 miles from the spill location, and the 12 miles from Duck Creek Bridge to Johnson Lane. The second two zones go from Johnson Lane to Miles City, 144 miles, and Miles City to Glendive, 78 miles.

More than 280 people now are involved in the effort, including ExxonMobil’s North America Regional Response Team, the Clean Harbors and ER oil spill response organizations and additional contractors, the company announced Monday evening.

More than 150 people worked on the oil clean-up along the river banks Monday.

On Sunday, the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials conducted an aerial assessment of the area beginning where the pipeline apparently broke, near Laurel, to a point 30 miles downstream of Billings.

They reported seeing bank deposits and small pooling of oil in backwaters and slow water at intermittent points along both the north and south banks of the river.

Sitting at the Audubon Conservation Education Center in south Billings on Monday, Norm Schoenthal said none of the oil had reached Norm Schoenthal Island or the conservation center.

But he’d seen it down along the river.

“I don’t know how you’re ever going to clean the area,” he said.

Copyright 2016 Helena Independent Record. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. justme59601
    Report Abuse
    justme59601 - July 05, 2011 2:50 pm
    daretocare said: "ExxonMobil has said that air and water monitoring had not revealed any health risks. Yet there is already a documented case where someone was diagnosed on Monday with acute hydrocarbon exposure after she experienced dizziness, nausea and trouble breathing. "

    LOL

  2. Bojangles
    Report Abuse
    Bojangles - July 05, 2011 2:29 pm
    MikeIS - 'Enviro-Wackos' - Man, you're a hoot. I'm sure you'd have no issue with this oil clean up being dumped at your home then. Don't worry, Mike. Oil is all natural - I'm sure it will have a tremendous effect on your tomatoes this year.

    Who's the Wacko?!!
  3. lampropeltis
    Report Abuse
    lampropeltis - July 05, 2011 11:24 am
    MichaelS said: "this is just another example of how the enviro-wacko have taken an accident and made it into something its not... a small yet effective private work force doing all the work. if you have ever seen a highway job, where all the goverment workers are sitting in there truck drinking coffee, talking on there cell phones, picking there noses that is what is going on in Yellowstone County, Montana... "

    WOW. A private company (EXXON) spills oil and this guy wants your tax dollars spent to help clean it up? The state workers aren't helping because 1) Exxon, with the proper equipment and know-how is cleaning it up, and 2) Exxon spilled the oil and it's their responsibility to clean it up. NOT the taxpayers of Montana.

    So MichaelS do you think this cleanup should be paid for by you/me the taxpayer? Private profits for Exxon, but when they become a liability it's on the taxpayers right? WRONG!

  4. Foolslayer
    Report Abuse
    Foolslayer - July 05, 2011 10:25 am
    Where is the Montana DES? Seems like they have been strangely silent, letting EXON do all the talking. Is anyone holding EXON's feet to the fire?
  5. daretocare
    Report Abuse
    daretocare - July 05, 2011 8:56 am
    ExxonMobil has said that air and water monitoring had not revealed any health risks. Yet there is already a documented case where someone was diagnosed on Monday with acute hydrocarbon exposure after she experienced dizziness, nausea and trouble breathing.
  6. MichaelS
    Report Abuse
    MichaelS - July 05, 2011 8:31 am
    this is just another example of how the enviro-wacko have taken an accident and made it into something its not. if you have seen the work effort its made up of goverment workers driving around with there flashers on while wearing white gloves and a small yet effective private work force doing all the work. if you have ever seen a highway job, where all the goverment workers are sitting in there truck drinking coffee, talking on there cell phones, picking there noses that is what is going on in Yellowstone County, Montana. this spill isn't good, but it will be cleaned up while the victims and there lawyers line up at the court house filing lawsuits on behalf of the "victim" while you and i will just pay higher prices at the pump. america should grow up before the chinese eat you for lunch !
  7. daretocare
    Report Abuse
    daretocare - July 05, 2011 8:19 am
    Bojangles said: "'Nothing to worry about...', say the Exxon spokespersons in yesterday's AP piece, '...most of the oil has probably evaporated.'"

    ExxonMobil also said that most of the oil has 'disappated'.

    Um, there is a huge portion of crude oil that does not 'evaporate'. And 'disappation' does not mean it's not in the water - it means mixed in the water in a way that is very hard to get out. Also, air quality monitoring is nice, but that's the least of the concerns. Don't be fooled with folks giving news in a fashion that makes the uneducated think things are good.
  8. Bojangles
    Report Abuse
    Bojangles - July 05, 2011 7:30 am
    'Nothing to worry about...', say the Exxon spokespersons in yesterday's AP piece, '...most of the oil has probably evaporated.'

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