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Montana, Exxon-Mobil At Odds Over Oil Spill

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Montana, Exxon-Mobil At Odds Over Oil Spill

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Montana, Exxon-Mobil At Odds Over Oil Spill

Montana, Exxon-Mobil At Odds Over Oil Spill

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Montana and oil giant Exxon-Mobil are at odds over an oil spill in the state's Yellowstone River. Exxon-Mobil says it's doing all it can to clean up the spill and has promised to see the cleanup through. That's not enough for Montana's state officials — particularly its governor. They say that the company hasn't been forthright on the extent of the spill and that they're not doing enough. Michele Norris speaks with Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer about those accusations — and the steps the state is taking to rectify them.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

I spoke with Governor Schweitzer earlier today, and he said he still doesn't know how long the oil was spilling or how much spilled.

BRIAN SCHWEITZER: I've suggested to Exxon-Mobil if they could go through their math with me, and we can't seem to get any updated information.

NORRIS: Now, Governor Schweitzer, as you know, Exxon is saying that it's hard to ascertain the exact volume of that spill because it's difficult to determine the rate of flow. And some experts have said that that sort of makes sense. This just may actually be a matter of confusion at this point. Do you buy that?

SCHWEITZER: Well, look, it's their pipeline. But I can tell you this. If they don't know how much oil fits in their pipeline or how much comes out the other side, maybe they're not looking that hard to get the answer. Of course this is complicated, but when you're paying $90 a barrel for oil, I think that you pretty much know how much oil you've got in that pipeline and how much has been delivered and how much is missing.

NORRIS: And what has been their official response thus far?

SCHWEITZER: Let's see. Let me think about it. Crickets.

NORRIS: Crickets? You mean silence?

SCHWEITZER: Nothing back.

NORRIS: Hmm.

SCHWEITZER: I've offered to send a $2 calculator to Houston so that they could show me how it didn't matter whether the pipeline ran for six minutes, 30 minutes or 56 minutes, and how the end result is always 750 to 1,000 barrels.

NORRIS: As I understand an oil spill, time is very important. You have to move in a timely manner. Who at this point is responsible for the cleanup, and why at this point isn't there a more detailed plan?

SCHWEITZER: Last week, we invited citizens that have been affected to come to a public meeting. And I advised those private landowners that they ought to take some of their own water and soil samples so that some of this evidence wouldn't be lost. And so I actually was criticized by some in the private world. And of course, even the EPA, the day before the meeting, suggested that it may not be a good idea for private citizens to take their own soil samples. So...

NORRIS: Do they have a point there?

SCHWEITZER: Maybe. But yesterday, I asked my people to report back how many soil samples EPA has collected so far. And as of 5 o'clock yesterday, on the ninth day of the spill, the answer back from EPA was zero. Not a single soil sample has been collected by the EPA.

NORRIS: You yourself were actually encouraging people to do this, and you actually handed out jars. Am I correct?

SCHWEITZER: Oh, you know, and I'm a soil scientist. And the director of my Department of Environmental Quality, Richard Opper, is also a soil scientist. So I'll be damned if I'm going to allow Exxon- Mobil from Houston, Texas or bureaucrat in Washington D.C. to tell a couple of Montana-trained scientists what we should and shouldn't do to protect the citizens in Montana.

NORRIS: If I were actually to visit the stretch of the river that has been affected by the oil spill, would I see evidence of the oil right now?

SCHWEITZER: But on the night that this pipeline burst, the Yellowstone was over its banks. So now, what I want you to do with this bowl is add another glass of water, pour it from three feet in the air and then take a big spoon and splash it a little bit, and it will now go over the side of the ball. And it will spread evenly as a thin film across that cookie sheet. Leave it alone for a day. The water will evaporate, and what you're left with is a thin film of oil. That's what happened on the Yellowstone River.

NORRIS: And we should say if folks try that at home they might want to don apron.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SCHWEITZER: Well, don't be as wild as the Yellowstone River. We'll say that.

NORRIS: Governor Schweitzer, thanks so much for talking to us.

SCHWEITZER: Thank you very much.

NORRIS: And tomorrow, we'll be joined by the president of Exxon-Mobil Pipeline Company. And we spoke also with the EPA about those soil samples the governor mentioned. We were told the agency is beginning to gather soil samples today.

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