MT Pipeline Spill Worse

Thursday, January 22, 2015 @ 07:01 PM gHale


Eastern Montana residents are now stocking up on bottled water after authorities Tuesday found a cancer-causing component of oil in public water supplies downstream of a Yellowstone River pipeline spill.

Elevated levels of benzene were in water samples from a treatment plant that serves about 6,000 people in the agricultural community of Glendive, Montana.

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Scientists from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the benzene levels were above those recommended for long-term consumption. They added, however, in the short term, the levels should not pose a threat. Residents received warnings not to drink or cook with water from their taps.

Over 50,000 gallons of oil spilled from the 12-inch Poplar pipeline owned by Wyoming-based Bridger Pipeline Co. The spill occurred about 5 miles upstream from the city.

Among the issues facing residents was the uncertainty over how long the water warning would last. Company and government officials struggled to come up with an effective way to recover the crude, most of which appears to be trapped beneath the ice-covered Yellowstone River.

A mechanical inspection of the damaged line Tuesday revealed the breach occurred directly beneath the river, about 50 feet from the south shore, Bridger Pipeline spokesman Bill Salvin said. The cause remained undetermined.

By Tuesday, there were oil sheens as far away as Williston, North Dakota, below the Yellowstone’s confluence with the Missouri River, officials said.

Representatives from the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) earlier said preliminary monitoring of the city’s water showed no cause for concern. The water treatment plant operated until Sunday afternoon, more than 24 hours after pipeline operator Bridger Pipeline discovered the spill, officials said.

Officials conducted additional tests early Monday after residents began complaining of the petroleum- or diesel-like smell from their tap water. That is when officials discovered the high benzene levels.

Paul Peronard with the EPA said they detected benzene in the range of 10 to 15 parts per billion in the city’s water. Anything above 5 parts per billion is a long-term risk, he said.

Peronard acknowledged problems in how officials addressed the city’s water supply, including not having the right testing equipment on hand right away to pick up contamination. But Peronard and others involved in the spill response said officials acted based on the best information available.

“Emergencies don’t work in a streamlined fashion,” said Bob Habeck with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. “It’s a process of discovery and response.”

Officials took initial steps Tuesday to decontaminate the water system. Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison said it was unknown when the water treatment plant would be back in operation.

Until that happens, Salvin said the company will provide 10,000 gallons of drinking water a day to Glendive.

Another pipeline spill along the Yellowstone River in Montana released 63,000 gallons of oil in July 2011. An Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline broke during flooding, and oil washed up along an 85-mile stretch of riverbank.

Exxon Mobil faces state and federal fines of up to $3.4 million from the spill. The company has said it spent $135 million on the cleanup and other work.

The Poplar pipeline involved in Saturday’s spill runs from Canada to Baker, Montana, picking up crude along the way from Montana and North Dakota’s Bakken oil-producing region.

The pipeline receives oil at four points in Montana: Poplar Station in Roosevelt County, Fisher and Richey stations in Richland County, and at Glendive in Dawson County. The section of pipeline that crosses the Yellowstone River underwent an inspection in 2012, in response to the Exxon accident, according to company officials.

At that time, the line was at least 8 feet below the riverbed where it crosses the Yellowstone. No cost estimate for the Glendive spill was yet available.



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