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Oil found 80 miles downstream of Yellowstone River spill

Cleanup workers assemble to try and remove spilled crude oil from the Yellowstone River in Montana. PHOTO COURTESY EXXONMOBIL.

EPA says there’s no threat to drinking and irrigation water; state officials want info on pipeline operations and safety inspections

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — EPA officials this weekend said a pocket of emulsified oil was found 80 miles downstream from the site of July 1 oil pipeline break in the Yellowstone River, but that most of the oil that has been recovered was within 30 miles of the spill.

The agency said water sampling between Laurel and Miles City, Montana show no signs of petroleum hydrocarbons in the water at levels exceeding drinking water standards for the area. According to the agency, the early testing shows there is no danger to agricultural uses of the water, and municipal water supplies in the area remain safe.

The latest official release from ExxonMobil emphasizes how much boom the company has deployed (30,000 feet), and how many absorbent pads have been used (160,000) to try and clean up the oil.

But neither the government or the oil company will say how much of the 42,000 gallons has actually been recovered, and that’s probably because nearly all the oil has been washed far downstream, well into the Missouri River at this point.

But someday there will be an accounting, as federal law requires that the oil company has to account for every single drop of the oil, said Dee Bradley, a New Mexico-based expert on inland oil spill cleanups.

Bradley said that, since the river is moving at about 5 mph, it’s pretty clear that the bulk of the oil will never be recovered. Most of it likely became entrained in the water column and became more and more diluted in the river. Some of it will naturally degrade, and some of it will probably settle to the bottom in places where the flow slows down, she added.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer is asking ExxonMobil to provide a detailed analysis of the oil that spilled and also asked for information on dispersants that might be effective in mitigating the spill. The governor is also asking the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide all records and documents pertaining to the operation and safety of the Silvertip pipeline. Click here to visit Montana’s oil spill website.

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