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Posts Tagged ‘Yellowstone River’

Thursday, April 9, 2015 @ 03:04 PM gHale

A broken pipeline that leaked 30,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana will end up removed so investigators can determine the cause of the spill that contaminated downstream water supplies.

Divers will pull up the broken section of pipeline and then send it to a laboratory for a metallurgical analysis as required under a federal order, Bridger Pipeline LLC spokesman Bill Salvin said.

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January’s breach in the Casper, Wyoming company’s pipeline temporarily fouled water supplies for thousands of people downstream in Glendive.

Only about 2,500 gallons of crude ended up recovered from the river. It was the second major spill into the Yellowstone since 2011, renewing calls for pipelines to end up buried deeper at river crossings.

Bridger’s Poplar pipeline carries oil from the Bakken region of Montana and North Dakota. The damaged section ended up installed in 1967, in an 8-foot-deep trench dug into the river bottom, according to documents submitted to regulators.

A closer examination of the damaged section could help explain why it failed.

“It will tell you whether or not there were any defects in the metal, or was it exposed and hit by something,” Salvin said.

Officials are investigating whether high waters or an ice jam on the river last year near the spill site played a role in the breach. A large enough ice jam can scour a river bottom and scrape away the cover over a pipeline.

Federal law requires companies bury pipelines at least 4 feet beneath major water bodies. Despite criticism those rules were inadequate, the U.S. Transportation Department determined in 2014 that 4 feet was sufficient.

Spokesman Damon Hill said the agency has worked closely with pipeline companies in Montana and elsewhere to identify and replace river crossings that pose a risk.

Near Billings, Phillips 66 started drilling a new line for its Seminoe petroleum products pipeline to put it approximately 40 feet beneath the river. The line at times has been just 2½ feet beneath the Yellowstone’s shifting riverbed, according to the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

The 8-inch Seminoe line spilled 25,000 gallons of gasoline in 2013 beneath land on the Crow Reservation west of Lodge Grass. Two earlier breaks along the same line in 1997 spilled a combined 97,000 gallons. It was owned then by Conoco Pipe Line Co.

The work that began Tuesday marks at least the 10th pipeline crossing that Texas-based Phillips 66 has replaced since 2011, when an ExxonMobil pipeline broke and released 63,000 gallons of crude into the Yellowstone near Laurel, Hill said.

“We continuously remind operators that they are responsible for knowing the conditions of their pipelines,” Hill said. “They are responsible for evaluating the water body crossings during flooding.”

Bridger Pipeline plans similar work before it restarts the line that breached near Glendive. Salvin said a permit for the drilling work is pending before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014 @ 09:03 AM gHale

Containment booms surrounding a flooded oil well near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers appear to be holding back oil that leaked from a tank from flowing into the rivers, the North Dakota Department of Health said Saturday.

Crews used two boats to deploy about 6,200 feet of absorbent booms Friday evening to contain oil from a well site owned by Zavanna that had breached the dike.

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“They believe they got all the oil contained,” said Kris Roberts, environmental response team leader with the Health Department’s Division of Water Quality.

The oil leaked from a tank that had floated and piping attached to the tank broke, causing oil to spill and breach the dike, said Travis Pfaff, production manager for Zavanna. The oil did not reach the actual river channel, Pfaff said.

The tank contained an estimated 33 barrels of oil, or 1,386 gallons, but crews don’t believe that entire amount released, Roberts said. “We’re pretty certain it was a lot less than that,” Roberts said.

Pfaff said the tank still has a volume of oil in it, but they haven’t been able to determine how much. Another tank at that same location tipped over but did not spill, Pfaff said.

Zavanna, with headquarters in Denver, has three cleanup crews working in the area, coordinated by a production supervisor who works in Williston, Pfaff said.

Crews have surrounded three additional wells with absorbent booms as a precaution, and none had released oil past their dikes as of Saturday afternoon, Pfaff said.

One of the flooded wells had booms surrounding it because it still has a workover rig on the location.

Crews didn’t have time to remove it because they focused on removing chemicals from the well locations, Pfaff said.

“When the ice jam came in, it flooded the area within a couple of hours,” Pfaff said. “The timing just ran out on us and we couldn’t operate in the middle of the night.”

Zavanna crews began securing wells and taking precautions at 10 p.m. Wednesday, Pfaff said.

Lynn Helms, director of the state Department of Mineral Resources, said his office issued a warning several days earlier to owners of about 50 wells in the area that ice jams downstream were causing flooding. Operators received word to shut down the wells and secure their tanks to prevent them from floating, Helms said.

“They were told well before the 12th that there were problems coming,” Helms said.

A Zavanna crew suffered mechanical issues on their boat and ended up stranded Friday, which hindered some of their efforts, Pfaff said. One of the crew members was there for seven hours, he said.

“It became a safety issue, trying to get our individuals safely out of the area,” Pfaff said.

Roberts said he noticed other wells during his aerial tour Friday that had equipment on site, including a Bobcat and sensitive electronic equipment, that crews didn’t have time to remove.

“Water levels come up very, very quickly. You can’t take your time. Some crews got caught,” Roberts said.

The Missouri River at Williston was at just under 26 feet late Saturday afternoon, which is considered major flood stage, the National Weather Service said.

After Monday, the river was going to start trending down, said meteorologist Bill Abeling with the weather service in Bismarck.

However, ice on the Yellowstone or Missouri rivers could create ice jams and cause fluctuations that are difficult to forecast, Abeling said.

During the aerial tour Friday, state officials counted 38 oil wells that have potential for flooding and nine that ended up inundated with water, the Health Department said.

Savanna crews continue to monitor 12 wells in the area, Pfaff said. As waters recede, they will remove any remaining chemicals or crude oil from the well sites, he said.

As a result of the flooding, Savanna officials are considering shutting down the wells during certain times of year, Pfaff said.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Workers continue cleaning up Yellowstone River. Officials estimate clean up will continue well into November.

Workers continue cleaning up Yellowstone River. Officials estimate clean up will continue well into November.

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