Montana Governor Declares State Of Emergency After River Oil Spill
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
As much as 50,000 gallons of crude oil has spilled into the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana. It was caused by a pipeline rupture near the high plains town of Glendive. The governor has declared a state of emergency in two counties because of the spill. Montana Public Radio's Eric Whitney reports.
ERIC WHITNEY, BYLINE: The company running the operation, Bridger Pipeline, says their 12-inch diameter pipe ruptured at 10 a.m. Saturday. Dena Hoff is a farmer on land adjacent to the pipeline.
DENA HOFF: I'm very upset, and I want to know how they're going to deal with it.
WHITNEY: Dealing with it is proving to be a challenge as much of the river in the area is encased in ice and conditions on the river and nearby can be treacherous this time of year for cleanup crews. Furthermore, it's still unclear where all the oil is. No one expected it to sink to the level where Glendive draws its drinking water - about 14 feet below the river's surface - but Mayor Jerry Jimison says that apparently happened.
MAYOR JERRY JIMISON: Sunday afternoon in the evening we started getting reports from residents that their water smelled funny, so we chose to alert residents not to drink the water until we could resolve the problem.
WHITNEY: Montana and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testing has detected the cancer-causing chemical benzene in Glendive's tap water. The town's water system serves about 6,000 people. No one knows how long it'll take before the water is safe to drink again. Meanwhile, truckloads of bottled water started arriving in town late Sunday. Montana Governor Steve Bullock toured the oil spill site Monday afternoon. He says cleaning up events like this can take some time.
GOVERNOR STEVE BULLOCK: The long term is containing as much of the oil and making sure that any property owners aren't impacted, and making sure that the pipeline company is held accountable for any damages, including natural resource damages, that might occur.
WHITNEY: The governor says Bridger Pipeline has promised to clean up the spill and pay for it. The company is digging trenches to try to collect the oil and the federal Environmental Protection Agency is on site, trying to intercept oil in the water.
BULLOCK: Unfortunately, this isn't the first rodeo that we've been to.
WHITNEY: Bullock recalls that in 2011 an ExxonMobil pipeline rupture spilled about 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone far upriver near Billings. That spill that happened in July sent oil at least 70 miles downriver. This spill, Governor Bullock says, has brought reports of an oily sheen about 50 miles downriver at the North Dakota border.
A spokesman for Bridger Pipeline has not returned a phone call for this story. Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison says that so far, he's been impressed with the response he's seen from the pipeline company at local emergency management meetings.
JIMISON: Last night there were about a hundred people in the room and about 75 of those people were contractors that Bridger Pipeline had brought in for various tasks.
WHITNEY: But given the oil spill into the river in 2011, farmer Dena Hoff whose land is next to this pipeline is mad that another one happened. And it makes her nervous to think that a new pipeline, the Keystone XL, could be built nearby.
HOFF: I'm pretty upset about the whole thing. And where the Keystone XL is supposed to cross the river is upstream, which means my irrigation water would be very affected.
WHITNEY: Pipelines cross Montana waterways in about 3,000 places, and the state's governor says he wants to know more about the federal agency that inspects them for safety.
For NPR News, I'm Eric Whitney in Missoula.
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