EPA: High flows in Yellowstone River hinder oil spill clean-up

The Yellowstone River.

Delayed response illustrates need for regionally based cleanup teams

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Clean-up experts said high flows in the Yellowstone River will make it hard to recover the thousands of gallons of oil that spilled after a 12-inch ExxonMobil oil pipeline ruptured upstream of Billings, Montana.

The swift flows are spreading the oil over a large area making it harder to capture. But the rapid dispersion of the oil may also reduce damage to wildlife and croplands along the river, according to Steve Way, the on-scene coordinator for the EPA. Read more at the Missoulian.com.

ExxonMobil said it’s ramping up cleanup efforts by bringing in specialized teams. But those efforts may be too little, too late.

The EPA pointed out as recently as late June that having specialized regional cleanup teams in place is critical for a timely response. According to an EPA paper, response times for inland oil spill often push or exceed federal legal requirements for a response within 12 hours.

“These response times can be critical, particularly when the product has reached fast moving waters such as rivers and streams,” the authors of the EPA inland oil spill response study wrote.

“We are bringing in experts from across the country to clean up the oil,” ExxonMobil Pipeline Company president Gary Pruessing said in a press statement. “We will stay with the cleanup until it is complete, and we sincerely apologize to the people of Montana for any inconvenience the incident is creating.”

ExxonMobil said they haven’t pinpointed a cause for the spill, but several news reports cited experts who said high flows in the river may have exposed the pipeline to damage from debris in the water.

The pipeline had all required permits and had been inspected as recently as December.

According to ExxonMobil, pipeline pumps were shut down within seven minutes of a pressure loss and action to isolate the pipeline was immediately initiated. The amount of oil released is estimated to be between 750 and 1,000 barrels.

Air quality monitoring throughout the impacted area is ongoing and has confirmed no danger to public health. Municipal water systems are being notified to monitor water quality but no reports of impacts have been received to date.

Oil has been found as far as five miles down the river from the pipeline location and additional reports of oil sightings are being investigated.

Crews from ExxonMobil’s Billings refinery responded Saturday by using booms and absorbent pads to pick up oil and staged response equipment throughout the area.

An additional 50 people trained in oil spill response were expected to join the effort Sunday. They will be joined by members of ExxonMobil’s North American Regional Response team from across the United States who have expertise in oil spill emergency response operations.

“We recognize the seriousness of this incident and are working hard to address it,” said Pruessing. “We will continue to add resources and are extremely grateful for the patience and assistance of local residents and authorities.”

ExxonMobil is working to coordinate the cleanup with local authorities, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, county commissioners, local response organizations and International Bird Rescue.

“We are presenting a detailed plan this morning which outlines how we clean up oil already located and continue to search for additional oil,” said Pruessing.

Environmental groups pointed out that ExxonMobil’s record of operating oil and gas pipelines in Montana is riddled with accidents.

According to a blog post on the Natural Resources Defense Council website, the 550-mile Yellowstone Pipeline that carries oil from Billings to Idaho and Washington has leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of petroleum into Montana’s rivers and lands, including Native American tribal lands.

Altogether, the pipeline has leaked at least 71 times on tribal lands, including one failure that resulted in a 163,000 gallon spill into a reservation creek.

As a result, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes rejected a renewal of the pipeline lease a few years ago.


One thought on “EPA: High flows in Yellowstone River hinder oil spill clean-up

  1. Oil Spill Eater II

    23 Years of Denial
    Much of what was being reported about in 2011 as the aftermath of the Gulf Oil Spill has not covered an important point: Oil is still leaking from the seabed floor BP well zone and millions of barrels are still submerged and residing in the water column–HOW WILL THE TOXIC GULF BE CLEANED UP
    There are many ongoing blog and media reports about the aftermath from the spill and millions being spent on studies to find out how marine life, water and other mediums have been affected. Further, as recent as Sept 13, 2011 reports on numerous sightings of new oil slicks in the vicinity of the original BP Spill are bringing attention back to the area. Lab tests showing it to be BP oil finally forced the admittance by the responsible oil company that it was their oil. Sadly, none of this coverage brings to light the most crucial issue; continued use of dispersants which do not remediate the oil and hence do not relieve the continued toxic stress on the ecosystem with adverse economic and health effects to Gulf Coast residents. And this cycle of new oil surfacing and repeatedly spraying Corexit to disperse it, has proven to compound environmental damage for which BP and government agencies enforcing destructive protocols should be held financially accountable.
    The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) admits there are “trade-offs” to using Corexit, however their explanation of these and why they favor its use on their website, are absurd. (See EPA Link)
    The combined events of the BP Oil Spill and the application of this [outmoded] cleanup method (millions of gallons of Corexit(R)) resulted in high toxicity levels persisting in the GOM region until as recent as March 201l* – levels well above earlier official safety threshold standards set in 1999 which, for some unexplained reason, were raised by much higher percentiles within a few months after the beginning of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. [a means of blinding people from identifying potential public health and seafood contamination risks] .These toxicity levels are still adversely affecting human health and marine life in the region.  

    EPA and other federal agency statements announcing the clean up was successful and assuring the public that seafood was safe to consume and that the environment was safe to use were clearly premature and misrepresentative to the public, suggesting ineffective clean-up protocols and potential negligence on the part of the EPA.  The most recent scientific data on this issue are fact-based, and those facts are now being reported in scientific literature.  

    More notably, BP had made formal requests to use bio remediation clean up technology to avoid these toxic trade-offs and initiated testing on a product called Oil Spill Eater II (already approved and listed on EPA’s National Contingency Plan for Oil Spill Response) to replace Corexit. BP’s request, along with those from gulf state officials, including Governor Jindal of Louisiana, were denied by EPA and Regional Response Team officials. The EPA denial letter cited science that erroneously grouped this ready-to-deploy, proven clean up product with “questionable” remediation products examined. In a June 2010 EPA letter, BP’s official request was denied, (correspondence relevant to the issue-Attachment 5, 6). Per Gulf Rescue Alliance sources BP’s Chief Council referenced that letter and stated in a recent meeting that their hands were tied where the use of bioremediation (OSE II ) was concerned – “BP is bound by it”—bound by the EPA mandate [to keep using Corexit]. Consequentially it is estimated that BP could have saved an estimated $36 billion in clean up costs if they had deployed the EPA approved alternative to Corexit.
    Gulf Rescue Alliance (GRA) has voluminous documentation indicating the EPA arbitrarily blocked and continues to prevent the use of eco friendly bioremediation clean up technology in favor of Corexit despite ample science indicating it is fatally toxic to marine life and even humans.
    Bottom line: Use of bioremediation could have saved BILLIONS in clean up costs and result in an end point to the disaster. (See Economic Comparison article) BP’s attempt to use an alternative is a significant point and the resultant damage caused by Corexit is proving to be quite concerning for escalating clean up costs.
    We applaud Surfrider Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity for its recent action of filing suit against the EPA over the use of dispersants reinforcing the case that EPA oil spill cleanup response protocols are wholly inadequate.
    While the EPA, NOAA and Coast Guard remain in denial and continue to roadblock the use of Bioremediation, perhaps this suit will open the door for permitting the deployment of safe and effective cleanup methods available and ready for use right now to stop the killing in the Gulf Waters. And if one had no regard for the marine life and saving the ecosystem, possibly the continued threat of loss in BP Stock value will incite action.
    While allowing Nalco Holding Company, the manufacturer of Corexit, to use up their existing stockpiles in the country, the UK has banned the product from further subsequent use. 

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