Cleanup Of Montana Oil Spill Complicated By Flooding
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
In Montana, an oil spill has fouled the Yellowstone River near Billings. An ExxonMobil pipeline buried under the riverbed ruptured on Friday, spilling an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil before the pipeline was shut off. Now, crews are trying to figure out how to clean up the spill, which is even more complicated because flooding has carried the oil beyond the river's banks.
Rob Rogers is covering the story for the Billings Gazette.
And, Rob, I understand you were out trying to get the sense of the damage for yourself. What did you see?
ROB ROGERS: You know, you don't see a lot of oil in the main channel of the river itself. But as you walk along of the banks, there's pools and eddies and backwaters in fields, among trees, and that's where you see the oil. It's caught up in river debris that's collected along the sides. It's clinging to grass and into tree limbs that hang down into the river. And pockets of it have just pooled along roadsides, and it's a big mess.
BLOCK: What does it smell like?
ROGERS: It's amazing. The smell is distinct, and it's very strong. Those who travel during the summer and have been on highways when the highway crews have been laying asphalt, that's exactly what it smells like.
BLOCK: What are you hearing from people who live along this stretch of the river near Billings?
ROGERS: You know, both east and west of the city, it's a lot of farmland, a lot of ranchland. They use the river to irrigate their land. And a lot of these people, their land has already been underwater because of the flooding, and so they've got oil residue all the way up to their houses.
BLOCK: Has ExxonMobil been able to figure out why this pipeline that's under the river bed, why it ruptured in the first place?
ROGERS: They have, and at least not officially. And at this point, because the river is running so high and so fast, they haven't even been even able to see the pipe or to get a look at the break.
You know, I think most people are of the opinion, at least, that because of the way the river is running with all the debris and, you know, rocks and rubble just roiling down the river, that's likely exposed the pipe and possibly caused the rupture.
But again, you know, no one is comfortable saying that officially until an investigation is done.
BLOCK: And because the river is so high with the flooding that you've talked about, it's got to make the cleanup more dangerous too. Not just harder, but also more dangerous.
ROGERS: Yeah. They can't put boats on the river. We were at a press conference this morning where Exxon officials and EPA and the governor spoke, and I guess yesterday they were able to get a jet boat on the river for a few minutes. But clean up crews along the side of the river are all in life vests; indicates that the riverbank gives away. It's tricky. It's dangerous, and it's compounding the whole problem.
BLOCK: What did Governor Schweitzer have to say today? There was a news conference, and I'm curious how he sees ExxonMobil's response to this spill.
ROGERS: Governor Schweitzer is known in Montana for having a strong personality, and that was certainly on display this morning. Officials from Exxon stood up. Officials from the EPA stood up. And both assured, you know, everyone listening that they would be on scene, that they would not leave until the oil is cleaned up, until the mess is cleaned up. And at that point, Governor Schweitzer spoke up and said that the cleanup would be done when the State of Montana says the cleanup is done.
BLOCK: You know, originally, I think ExxonMobil had said that the spill was contained to a pretty small stretch of the river. I think they've now backed down off of that statement?
ROGERS: They have. They've realized that, you know - well, Governor Schweitzer said at this point oil has probably been carried into North Dakota.
BLOCK: And we should explain that the river flows out of Yellowstone National Park, not into it.
ROGERS: It does. I guess it's kind of counterintuitive. It flows north, and it flows east because we're on the eastern side of the Continental Divide. So it flows out of Yellowstone National Park.
BLOCK: Okay. Rob Rogers with the Billings Gazette, talking about the oil spill along the Yellowstone River in Montana.
Rob, thank you very much.
ROGERS: Thank you.
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
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