Receding Yellowstone Waters Reveal Extent Of ExxonMobil Oil Spill

The waters are starting to recede on the banks of the Yellowstone River, but the cleanup of the thousand-barrel oil spill from ExxonMobil's ruptured pipeline near Billings, Montana is just getting started. From the KUHF Business Desk, Andrew Schneider reports on the job facing ExxonMobil.

The past twenty-four hours brought environmental cleanup crews along the Yellowstone the first good news they’ve had in nearly two weeks. Matthew Allen is a spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency.

“In the last 24 hours or so, the river’s come down about a foot, which makes all the difference for accessing areas that had been flooded — that had water that normally wouldn’t have water in them — and that’s going to allow us to get our people better access to the river. We’re going to be able to get more boats out on the water to access places that we hadn’t been to before.”

Richard Opper is Montana’s Environmental Quality Director. Opper says the river’s flood stage may have helped to dilute the oil. That would make it easier for bacteria in the water to break it down.

“But also the high water level has caused the oil to spill over into people’s fields and into adjacent wetlands, and in that sense, it’s been a real problem. Plus, it kind of masks some of the oil deposition that we might have otherwise seen. There is oil deposition on a lot of islands in the river, and we can’t even get to the islands to determine how much deposition there’s been, because we can’t get a boat on the river.”

There’s also been something of a breakdown in cooperation between the state government and ExxonMobil. Montana, Exxon and the EPA had been jointly participating in a command post overseeing the response to the spill. But last week, Governor Brian Schweitzer said the state was cutting ties to the command post, accusing ExxonMobil security workers of blocking members of the public from attending meetings held there.

“The state has very open sunshine laws. We want to make sure that any meeting we participate in, the public can have access to. We’ve got a very different philosophy than ExxonMobil on that.”

Montana’s senior senator, Democrat Max Baucus, is now demanding answers from both ExxonMobil and from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline Safety Administration.

Earlier this year, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced a safety action plan to address concerns about the state of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure. Baucus wants to know what actions were taken regarding Exxon’s pipeline following that announcement.


Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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