Posts Tagged ‘Yellowstone River’
Thursday, January 10, 2013 @ 06:01 PM gHale
Safety of pipelines continues to be of paramount importance as pipeline spills caused by flooding and riverbed erosion dumped 2.4 million gallons of crude oil and other hazardous liquids into U.S. waterways over the past two decades, said a new report from federal regulators.
The impetus for this new Department of Transportation report came from the 2011 spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River. The spill highlighted concerns about federal pipeline rules that require lines to be just 4 feet below riverbeds, which seems just a small amount to cover the lines and can quickly wash away floodwaters. The Associated Press obtained an advanced copy of the report.
Regulators found flood-related pipeline spills since 1993 in California, Texas, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Kentucky. Of the 2.4 million gallons of oil, gasoline, propane and other hazardous liquids released, less than 300,000 gallons ended up recovered.
Although those accidents account for less than 1 percent of the total number of pipeline accidents, the consequences of a release in water can be much more severe because of the threats to drinking water supplies and the heightened potential for environmental damage.
The 16 spills cost companies almost $200 million combined in property damages, lost product, cleanup work and other expenses.
The most recent accidents came during flooding in 2011 throughout the Missouri River Basin.
Those include the Yellowstone River spill that saw a severed Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline release 63,000 gallons. A NuStar Energy LP pipeline also spilled 4,200 gallons of anhydrous ammonia into the Missouri River in Nebraska, and an Enterprise Products Partners LP pipeline released 28,350 gallons of gasoline into the Missouri River in Iowa.
Exxon’s 2011 spill into the Yellowstone cost the company an estimated $135 million.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who requested the report with fellow Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester, said the results reveal “some pretty clear holes in pipeline oversight when it comes to flooding.”
But Baucus said the report leaves unanswered basic questions about what steps to prevent future accidents.
Transportation Department officials will next evaluate whether pipeline crossing rules such as the 4-foot depth requirement are sufficient, said Jeannie Layson, communications director for the agency’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
The agency must deliver another report to Congress within the next year to update lawmakers on its plans.
Pipeline companies must inspect crossings under navigable waterways at least once every five years.
Friday, January 4, 2013 @ 04:01 PM gHale
Exxon Mobil Corp.’s delays responding to a major pipeline break beneath Montana’s Yellowstone River made an oil spill far worse than it otherwise would have been, a new report said.
The July 2011 rupture fouled 70 miles of riverbank along the Yellowstone, killing fish and wildlife and prompting a massive, months-long cleanup.
Exxon could have reduced the damage significantly if pipeline controllers had acted quicker, Department of Transportation (DoT) investigators said.
The report marks the first time federal regulators highlighted specific actions by Exxon as contributing to the severity of the spill.
An Exxon spokeswoman said Wednesday the company was reviewing the findings of the report.
The spill released about 63,000 gallons of crude from Exxon’s 20-year-old Silvertip pipeline into the river near the city of Laurel. There would have been less damage by about two-thirds if controllers in Houston isolated the rupture as soon as problems emerged, investigators said.
Instead, after Exxon personnel partially shut down the line and were weighing their next steps, crude drained from the severed, 12-inch pipeline for another 46 minutes before they finally closed a key control valve.
Exxon spent $135 million on its response to the spill, including cleanup and repair work.
Spokeswoman Rachael Moore said the company will continue to cooperate with Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and “is committed to learning from these events.”
The report chalks up the immediate cause of the spill to floodwaters that damaged the pipeline and left it exposed. Debris washing downriver piled up on the line, increasing pressure until it ruptured.
The “volume would have been much less” and the location of spill “would have been identified far more quickly” if Exxon’s emergency procedures had called for the immediate closure of upstream valves, investigators said.
The report also faulted Exxon for lacking a plan to notify pipeline controllers the river was flooding.
Exxon workers did not incur blame for steps taken in the lead-up to the spill.
Exxon’s field observations and “depth of cover survey took reasonable precautions to address the flooding of the Yellowstone River it the spring and early summer of 2011,” the investigators wrote.
City officials in Laurel had warned Exxon that the riverbank was eroding. The company, however, continued to run crude beneath the Yellowstone after finding that a section of pipeline leading away from the river was still buried more than 6 feet deep.
Tuesday, April 10, 2012 @ 03:04 PM gHale
Everyone agrees there needs to be a plan to speed up the response to oil spills along Montana’s upper Yellowstone River, after a major spill last year left local officials scrambling to deal with an ill-defined threat.
That is why Exxon Mobil Corp. is working with government agencies to provide enough training and resources to take action on major pipeline, refinery or railway spills within 24 hours, or before outside help can arrive.
Exxon would pay to plan and possibly equip the stepped-up response under a settlement with the state over pollution violations from its July pipeline break near Laurel, MT.
The effort is in the early stages and the company has not yet submitted a formal proposal. The state needs to approve the plan for the work to count toward Exxon’s remaining $1.3 million obligation under the settlement reached after last year’s spill.
The company’s 12-inch Silvertip pipeline broke beneath the Yellowstone one weekend last July, releasing an estimated 63,000 gallons of oil. Officials recovered less than 1 percent of the oil that spilled during a cleanup that cost an estimated $135 million after pipeline repairs factored in.
Officials fear some oil leftover from Silvertip could re-emerge during high waters this spring. Samples of possible oil sheen found on the river this week near Laurel are now in the lab undergoing testing. Results are due later this month from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).
DEQ scientist Laura Alvey said Exxon will be responsible for cleaning up any more oil discovered from last year’s spill.
The company is monitoring about 45 sites along the river where they left oil in place because officials determined removal would be more damaging, Alvey said.
The plan for future spills would cover seven counties in south-central and southeast Montana — Yellowstone, Carbon, Stillwater, Sweetgrass, Park, Gallatin and Big Horn. Most of the region’s oil and gas facilities, including three refineries, are in two counties — Yellowstone and Carbon counties.
Steve Merritt with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the hope is to have any needed training done and equipment in place by the end of the year to handle a significant spill.
Yellowstone County’s director of disaster and emergency services, Duane Winslow, said in the future, rural volunteer firefighters could undergo training in spill response “so it’s not just Exxon’s 25-person strike force or whatever they had that Saturday morning.”
Exxon eventually brought in hundreds of cleanup contractors but that took time because many came from the Gulf Coast, where spills are more frequent.
An Exxon spokesperson said it was premature to comment since it has not submitted its proposal. But an Exxon emergency response advisor, John Dunn, said this week the company wants to make the effort “as productive as possible.”
The spill marred about 70 miles of riverbank and damaged scores of farms, residences and other riverfront properties. No major drinking water sources were contaminated.
Because the river was flooding at dangerous levels during the spill, Merritt said there was little that local emergency responders could have done to stop the oil from moving downstream even with a better response plan in place.
But he said better communications among government agencies and the company could have made downstream residents and communities more prepared.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012 @ 04:02 PM gHale
Very few companies take river erosion and other risks into account when evaluating pipeline safety, federal officials said.
This comes as federal officials investigate a pipeline break that spilled 1,500 barrels of oil into a Montana river. In recent months, though, several companies have completed or made plans for significant upgrades to pipelines across major waterways in Montana and adjoining parts of Wyoming and Idaho.
Among those were $20 million in improvements to Exxon’s 12-inch Silvertip line, which broke July 1 during flooding on the Yellowstone River, fouling an estimated 70 miles of shoreline.
But more needs to happen, said Chris Hoidal, western region director for the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
“Things are a lot better than they were six months ago. There’s still a long way to go,” Hoidal said during a meeting of Montana’s Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council.
Council chairman and Department of Environmental Quality director Richard Opper said the work done to date addressed the most vulnerable pipeline crossings identified by inspectors last fall.
Yet thousands of pipelines that cross small or intermittent streams remain a concern, he said, adding inspections of those lesser crossings generally end up being the responsibility of the companies that operate them.
“PHMSA doesn’t have the staff to inspect thousands of crossings in Montana alone, not to mention all the other states they have to oversee,” Opper said. He said those crossings “are not quite as vulnerable to the really big flows on the bigger rivers, but they’re still a concern.”
Montana has 6,700 miles of natural gas transmission, oil and other hazardous liquid pipelines and another 6,683 miles of smaller distribution lines that connect to service lines for homes and businesses. The state averages about six or seven serious accidents on those lines annually.
The Exxon Mobil spill near Laurel caused more property damage than all other accidents over the last decade combined. Investigators feel river scouring caused by flooding on the Yellowstone was responsible. The line was only a few feet beneath the riverbed when it went in back in 1991.
The spill allowed crude to gush into the river for almost an hour. In addition to its recent upgrades to the line, Exxon is spending an estimated $115 million to clean up parts of the river and adjacent lands that suffered crude contamination following by the spill.
To prevent future accidents, Hoidal’s agency said companies need to better evaluate risks from flooding rivers, soil subsidence and other changes to the landscape through which pipelines pass. To account for those changes, companies can take steps such as rerouting pipelines, drilling them more deeply or adding automatic valves so they can quickly shut them down.
There are 82 points at which oil and other hazardous liquid pipelines cross major rivers in Montana and portions of adjoining states. Inspections in the wake of the Yellowstone spill found exposed sections of pipe or other problems at eight of those major crossings and many smaller river and stream crossings.
Work on some of those crossings has since been completed or is underway by companies including ConocoPhillips, CHS and Exxon Mobil, Hoidal said.
Monday, January 23, 2012 @ 04:01 PM gHale
Exxon Mobil Corp. will pay more than $2 million in penalties and cleanup costs to Montana for a pipeline rupture in July that spilled an estimated 1,500 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River, according to a proposed legal settlement.
Under the negotiated agreement between Exxon and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, the Texas-based oil company would pay a fine of $1.6 million, the largest penalty ever levied in Montana for violations of its water quality regulations.
Exxon also would reimburse Montana $760,000 for state cleanup expenses and cover any future costs should the state incur them, according to the deal.
Exxon’s Silvertip pipeline burst July 1 at a crossing beneath the flood-swollen Yellowstone River near Billings, MT, about 150 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park.
The company originally put the size of the spill at 1,000 barrels of crude but has since revised the volume of oil released into the river at 1,500 barrels, Montana environmental officials said.
The deal represents only part of Exxon’s liability stemming from the pipeline rupture, Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper said.
Exxon in November estimated its overall response to the spill, including cleanup, would cost $135 million and said it reached compensation agreements with more than 95 percent of riverside property owners affected by the accident.
In addition, Exxon must still settle with the state for any damages assessed by the Montana attorney general under the state’s natural resource laws, Opper said.
The cause of the accident, which occurred amid historically high water levels on the pristine river, remains under investigation by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Exxon said it regretted the incident and took full responsibility for the cleanup.
Thursday, November 17, 2011 @ 04:11 PM gHale
Oil and other hazardous liquid pipelines at seven major river crossings and hundreds of smaller crossings in Montana and northern Wyoming have problems that could put the lines at increased risk of failure, federal safety regulators said.
Problems found at the major river crossings need fixing by spring or the companies that own them will face enforcement actions, said Chris Hoidal with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
That includes pipelines crossing the Missouri, Musselshell, Gallatin, Tongue and other rivers. Three companies own the pipelines: Exxon Mobil, CHS and ConocoPhillips.
Some repairs already are under way, according to company representatives.
Many of the pipelines came online 30 years ago in shallow trenches just a few feet beneath riverbottoms. Erosion caused in part by record flooding has since exposed the lines or left them buried under minimal cover. The consequences of a line failing camet to light with Exxon Mobil pipeline break in July that spilled 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River, fouling dozens of miles of riverbank.
“They’ve got to do something. If they can’t fix them, then they will have to shut them down,” said Hoidal, who oversees pipeline safety in 12 Western states for the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
He characterized the problems at the major crossings as putting them at a significant risk of failure. Information on the smaller crossings still is under analysis, and Hoidal said repairs to those would be scheduled on a case-by-case basis.
Hoidal said he has instructed his inspectors to take a similar look at pipelines elsewhere in the West. But the most detailed information collected since the Yellowstone spill was for Montana and portions of northern Wyoming within the Missouri River basin.
More than 170,000 miles of pipelines carrying oil, refined petroleum and other hazardous liquids crisscross the United States, crossing some 35,000 streams, rivers and other water bodies, according to the Department of Transportation.
That includes 2,800 miles of pipelines in Montana, said industry consultant Bruce Beighle with Integrity Solutions in Clinton.
About half of that mileage includes lines operated by ConocoPhillips. Other companies with significant hazardous liquid pipeline mileage in Montana include CHS, Kinder Morgan, Marathon, True, Plains and Exxon Mobil.
Work already wrapped up on an eighth major river crossing with problems, ConocoPhillips’ Glacier pipeline along Belt Creek in central Montana. Two other ConocoPhillips pipelines not counted among the major crossings also have been repaired, said company spokeswoman Romelia Hinojosa.
Other upgrades are planned in the next several months. That includes $15 million in additional work along Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip line, according to information obtained from Hoidal’s agency.
A 1,700-foot section of Silvertip ended up buried approximately 70 feet beneath the Yellowstone in September. Sections crossing Rock Creek and the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone should undergo replacement by late January.
“The incentive for us is these spills cost a lot of money,” said Dave Galt, executive director of the Montana Petroleum Association. “All of these are being addressed and the companies take that responsibility. We don’t want releases into the water.”
Tuesday, November 8, 2011 @ 12:11 PM gHale
For those thinking safety and security are cost centers take a look at the $135 million Exxon Mobil Corp. is paying for the pipeline break which resulted in an oil spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River.
The cost figure is more than tripled an earlier estimate. It includes for the first time the expense of replacing the section of broken pipeline with a new one buried deeper beneath the river.
The company’s 20-year-old Silvertip crude oil pipeline broke July 1 during severe flooding. In the 56 minutes it took Exxon Mobil to seal off the 12-inch line, an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil, or 42,000 gallons, poured into the river near Laurel. That fouled dozens of miles of riverbank, numerous islands and swaths of low-lying cropland with crude.
More than 1,000 workers helped in the cleanup effort at its peak. Work to remove the damaged pipeline began Monday and should take several weeks.
“This estimate includes costs for overall emergency response and cleanup efforts including personnel, equipment, landowner claims and projects associated with the restart of the pipeline such as the horizontal directional drill,” said Exxon Mobil spokeswoman Claire Hassett.
“Horizontal directional drill” refers to the process the company used to bore a new route for the pipeline dozens of feet beneath the riverbed. Federal pipeline regulators mandated that move.
The original pipeline was only a few feet beneath the river. State and federal officials theorize summer flooding scoured the riverbed and left the pipe exposed to damaging debris and the force of the rushing river.
State officials said they hope to learn more when the first pieces of the damaged section of pipeline come out of the river, possibly this weekend. Those pieces will ship over to an independent laboratory for analysis, according to state and federal officials and the company.
An inspector from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will be on site throughout the removal process. The agency wants to make sure all evidence ends up preserved as part of the accident investigation, spokesman Damon Hill said.
Several property owners along the river have sued Exxon Mobil in federal court, accusing the company of damaging their land and conducting a “haphazard, sloppy” cleanup.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011 @ 02:08 PM gHale
Exxon Mobil Corp. figures the cost to clean up a July 1 oil spill into the Yellowstone River in Montana will be $42.6 million.
The company’s emergency response to the spill from the Silvertip pipeline will cost $40 million and property claims will be $2.5 million, the company said in a July 29 filing with the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.
Exxon also lost about $100,000 of oil and other commodities in the spill, according to the federal document.
Exxon’s 69-mile (111-kilometer) Silvertip line spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude into a flood-swollen Yellowstone River near Laurel, MT. The pipeline runs from Elk Basin, WY to Exxon’s refinery in Billings, MT.
More than 1,000 people were working to clean up the site as of Aug. 12, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is leading the response effort. Sampling results for air, water, soil and sediment around the river show “no levels of concern” for water supplies or air quality, the agency said.
Monday, August 22, 2011 @ 03:08 PM gHale
A major oil spill in the Yellowstone River has proven more difficult to clean up than expected and could go on for several more months, said an Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. executive.
Areas hit hardest by the July spill should be clean by the first half of October, company vice president Geoff Craft said. That includes a 20-mile stretch of the Yellowstone stretching from the spill site near Laurel downstream to Billings.
But scattered sites still need work, including contaminated river sections downstream of Billings and two large islands in the heavily impacted area. Work in those areas could continue until Thanksgiving, Craft said.
Slowing the cleanup effort has been the task of removing crude from hundreds of debris piles deposited by the same spring floodwaters widely believed to have triggered the 12-inch pipeline’s failure. Also, Exxon did not want to bring in more workers than necessary to avoid trampling the riverbank, Craft said.
“Nobody would have guessed how hard it would be,” Craft said. “We don’t want to do more harm than good by bringing in too many people or too many vehicles. … It’s very labor intensive.”
Within days of the 1,000-barrel spill, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered Exxon Mobil to complete its remediation work by Sept 9. But officials said that date was not a hard deadline.
EPA on-scene coordinator Craig Myers said the cleanup “is much more dictated by progress in the field instead of a date on the calendar.” Myers added final approval of the work would have to come from Montana officials.
About 1,000 people are working to mop up the spill, including 850 Exxon Mobil employees and contractors working along dozens of miles of riverbank.
Because the river was flooding when the pipeline failed, the spilled crude spread deep into the woods and across agricultural fields, making it difficult in some cases to find and remove.
On Thursday, crews were picking their way through hundreds of acres of dense underbrush — lopping off oil-stained plants and tree branches with hand clippers and then hauling the material away in plastic bags.
Nearby, a small excavator was pulling apart a tangle of logs and branches — one of many debris piles company representatives said they would have to sort by hand to remove anything stained with oil.
Despite the slow pace, state and federal regulators said there has been significant progress in the seven weeks since the spill.
Teams sent out to find oil are no longer reporting significant pockets of pooled crude, said Myers. Instead, workers are concentrating on removing oil-stained vegetation and the debris piles.
Remnants of the spill likely will linger long after the crews are gone, said Sandi Olsen, head of the remediation division of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. But Olsen said any remaining deposits of oil were quickly degrading and unlikely to pose a long-term threat.
“Our parameters for cleanup are that it does not pose a risk to human health for the environmental,” Olsen said. “A thin layer (of oil) — that’s going to be there until it weathers away. It’s not going to pose a risk, but you can see it.”
Monday, August 1, 2011 @ 02:08 PM gHale
It has now been a month since the Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured into the Yellowstone River in Montana and less than 3 percent of the observed sections downstream of the break are suffering from oil effects, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.
Exxon Mobil reported 1,000 barrels of crude oil spilled July 1 into the Yellowstone River from its 12-inch Silvertip pipeline near Billings, MT.
Crews were “finding numerous, heavily oiled flood debris piles at various locations along the shoreline and on the islands,” the EPA said last week.
In its latest update on survey operations along the Yellowstone River, the EPA said it found 2.7 percent of the first 10 miles of river downstream from the pipeline break heavily affected by oil. Less than 1 percent of the next 18 miles had heavy oil impacts, the agency said.
Because of the amount of oil-soaked debris left when floodwaters along the Yellowstone River receded, the response includes nearly 900 personnel engaged in remediation and assessment efforts.
The EPA said it had to airlift some equipment into areas previously inaccessible.
“This has accelerated cleanup efforts and will enable contaminated debris piles to be removed more effectively,” the agency said.
Though Silvertip had carried heavy crude oil from tar sands projects in Alberta, Canada, the pipeline was carrying conventional crude at the site of the spill, Exxon said.