Most of the 30,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the once-pristine Yellowstone River Jan. 17 from Bridger Pipeline’s breached oil pipeline will remain in the river, federal and Montana regulators said.
Earlier this month, Montana Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Jeni Flatow told the Casper Star Tribune that they didn’t expect to recover much of the oil, even though a break-up of the ice was imminent. There was simply too much ice concealing the oil and making recovery near impossible.
This week, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official Paul Peronard said that the response to the oil spill has shifted from recovery to long-term monitoring and remediation. Moreover, because the agency doesn’t expect to recover much more of the oil as it is dispersed throughout the river’s habitats, jurisdiction over the spill is turned over to Montana’s environmental regulators.
Only some 2,500 gallons of Bridger Pipeline’s oil has been recovered – barely 8 percent of the total spill.
The disaster continues to cause problems for the community of Glendive, Mont., whose municipal water treatment plant sits just upstream of the Bridger Pipeline spill.
Last week, the city asked its 6,000 residents who depend on the municipal water system to reduce their 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 spill’s effects on the larger Yellowstone environment and its wildlife remain unclear.
The January spill was the second major oil spill in less than four years to contaminate the Yellowstone River. In July 2011, an ExxonMobil Silvertip pipeline burst near Laurel, Mont., 20 miles upstream from Billings.
The Exxon spill dumped 63,000 gallons of crude oil into Yellowstone River during its fast-moving flood stage, which spread the oil far beyond the breach.
Exxon, one of the richest corporations in the world and the second wealthiest U.S. company, believes it should not be held accountable for its poorly maintained, aging pipeline system any more than it believes in paying restitution for oil pollution spilling from those pipelines. Exxon is still fighting the proposed $1 million pollution fine for that spill in court, even though the court already agreed to lower the original fine by 70 percent in a 2013 closed-door meeting.
Montana officials say they will be “negotiating” with Casper, Wyo.-based Bridger Pipeline in the months ahead over penalties for violating water pollution laws with the latest spill.