The spill of some 30,000-gallons of crude oil into the pristine Yellowstone River in January continues to pose problems for area residents, while the toll on wildlife that depends on the 700-mile river remains unknown.
Last week, the city of Glendive, Mont., asked 6,000 residents who use the municipal water system to reduce water usage following an ice breakup that caused oil residue levels to reach unsafe levels at the water plant’s intake. Elevated levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, are already present in water samples taken from the treatment facility.
The Glendive Water Treatment Plant said that it was shutting down its intake to protect the clean, treated water already in its system from oil contamination. Additionally, the city said the water plant is installing additional equipment to remove oil residue from the municipal water supply while providing bottled water to local residents.
This recent oil disaster stems from the 12-inch Poplar Pipeline that crosses under the Yellowstone River just upstream from Glendive. A breach in the line occurred on January 17 between two block valves directly underneath the river.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said that cleanup crews have collected about 548 barrels of oil, but most of the spilled Bakken crude remains in the river unrecovered because of ice and other conditions dangerous to response workers.
The January spill was the second major spill in less than four years to contaminate the Yellowstone River. In July 2011, an ExxonMobil’s Silvertip pipeline burst near Laurel, Mont., 20 miles upstream from Billings. That spill dumped 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the fast-moving, flood-stage Yellowstone River, which at the time was at a 30-year peak and overflowing its banks, exacerbating the environmental damage and spreading oil as far as 70 miles from the spill site.
These two recent oil disasters have many Yellowstone residents living in terror that the proposed Keystone XL will be built, as Montana’s senators have promised, despite concerns of environmentalists and a presidential veto. If constructed, the Keystone pipeline will move highly toxic Canadian bitumen oil from Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast, crossing the Yellowstone River in Glendive and threatening both the environment and U.S. communities along its 4,774-mile route.