Exxon Fined $1M for Yellowstone Spill

Tuesday, January 27, 2015 @ 02:01 PM gHale

Exxon Mobil Corp. is facing $1 million in fines for safety violations stemming from a pipeline rupture in 2011 that spilled 63,000 gallons of crude into Montana’s Yellowstone River.

The Department of Transportation (DoT) order issued Friday reduced the original penalty by about $700,000. That comes after the Irving, Texas-based oil company challenged some claims that it didn’t do enough to prevent the accident.

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The pipeline break during summer flooding near Laurel left oil along an 85-mile stretch of the Yellowstone, killing fish and wildlife and prompting a cleanup that took months.

Safety regulators said Exxon Mobil had failed to adequately heed warnings that its 20-year-old Silvertip Pipeline was at risk.

The company “did not evaluate the likelihood of a release caused by flooding of the Yellowstone River, and failed to consider risk factors relevant to flooding,” said Jeffrey Wiese, associate administrator for the Transportation Department’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Exxon Mobil has 20 days to ask for reconsideration. Company spokesman Christian Flathman said it “has received and is reviewing PHMSA’s final order.”

Also Friday, attorneys for property owners damaged by the spill said Exxon Mobil agreed to pay landowners $2 million to settle a civil lawsuit.

The landowners noted in their lawsuit other pipeline owners with lines beneath the Yellowstone shut down during the July 2011 flood that broke the line. They characterized Exxon Mobil’s decision to keep moving oil as a “profit-driven” one.

Exxon Mobil spent $135 million on its response to the spill, including cleanup and repair work. Exxon Mobil replaced the damaged section of pipeline with a new section buried dozens of feet beneath the riverbed.

In 2013, Exxon Mobil agreed to a $1.6 million settlement with Montana officials to resolve water pollution violations stemming from the spill.

Another pipeline break on the Yellowstone last week spilled an estimated 40,000 gallons of oil near Glendive in Montana, fouling 6,000 residents’ drinking water. The response to that accident has been slow because of thick ice on the river, which makes it hard to both find and clean up the oil. Bridger Pipeline of Casper, Wyoming, owns the pipeline, which ruptured Jan. 17.

The Poplar Pipeline, which spilled the oil into the Yellowstone River ended up built with pipe made using faulty welding techniques, and its owner has had a series of spills on the line. These two factors put the pipeline at a higher risk for problems.

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