Skip to main content

Rising Yellowstone River Complicates Efforts to Clean Up Oil Spill

  • Author:
  • Updated:

On Friday, July 1, a 12-inch oil pipeline burst and spewed as much as 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River ten miles west of Billings, Montana. The Silvertip pipeline delivered some 40,000 barrels of crude oil daily to a refinery in Billings, and the rupture occurred in a section of pipe that runs beneath the Yellowstone River.

ExxonMobil Corp., which owns the pipeline, has begun cleanup of the site. The company and Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing have been accused of downplaying the severity of the spill; Montana Governor Brian Schweizer has been particularly vocal in his criticism. "For somebody to say at this early stage that there's no damage to wildlife, that's pretty silly," Schweitzer said, according to an Associated Press report. "The Yellowstone River is important to us. We've got to have a physical inspection of that river in small boats—and soon."

By Monday, about 280 workers had converged on the area affected by the spill, and Schweitzer is scheduled to tour the site on Tuesday, July 5 According to a CNN report. Schweitzer said that cleanup efforts so far were "pretty good," but added that "not all the assets that we wanted are here, and we're going to find out why."

Cleanup efforts became more challenging on Tuesday due to a rise in the river from extra snowmelt caused by high summer temperatures. As explained in an AP report, when the water rises above the riverbanks, it can push oil into new, unspoiled areas; when the water recedes, the heavy oil may stay behind, compromising fish habitats. The swollen river is also harder to clean up simply because the water moves more rapidly and is less navigable.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

In a blog post at the Natural Resources Defense Council site, Bobby McEnany recalls the case of the Yellowstone pipeline that for years ran beneath the Flathead Reservation. In the mid-1990s, Exxon and Conoco had to renew the lease agreement with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes; unfortunately, the pipeline had spilled at least 71 times onto the Reservation lands, contaminating Tribal fishing and hunting grounds. Although Exxon and Conoco formally apologized for the most recent spill, which had leaked 163,000 gallons onto the reservation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai turned down the millions of dollars the companies would have paid them to lease the pipeline land.