Pipeline Leaks Oil into Yellowstone River

As many as 50,000 gallons contaminate waterway

Jan 20, 2015
Outside Magazine
yellowstone river poplar pipeline montana oil spill outside

As much as 1,200 barrels of crude oil may have entered the Yellowstone River over the weekend.    Mary Harrsch/Flickr

The Poplar pipeline, a system near Glendive, Montana, sprung a leak Saturday, releasing crude oil into the Yellowstone River. Oil was spotted as far as 60 miles downriver from Glendive.

A statement from line operator Bridger Pipeline LLC says the leak began at 10 a.m. Saturday. The pipeline was shut down within an hour, but Bridger estimates that between 300 and 1,200 barrels (about 50,000 gallons) were released before the pipe was sealed. It is unclear how much of the spillage made it into the river.

The pipeline runs from the Canadian border to Baker, Montana, and crosses eight feet below the riverbed near Glendive, according to Reuters. ThinkProgress reports that some residents can smell or taste oil in their drinking water. The Environmental Protection Agency ran tests and brought in bottled water, and the city water plant has stopped drawing water from the river.

Tests of water samples collected by Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) revealed elevated levels of volatile organic compounds, mostly benzene, a chemical also found in tobacco smoke. The levels are above those acceptable for long-term consumption, but scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told the DEQ that the water doesn’t pose a short-term public health hazard.

“We tested the water and at some taps we detected hydrocarbons,” Paul Peronard, on-scene coordinator for the EPA, told the Billings Gazette. Peronard also said that crews were trying to contain the oil farther downstream, but a layer of ice on the river was making it difficult.

This isn’t the first oil spill on the Yellowstone. In 2011, Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip pipeline ruptured under the river. It cost the company about $135 million to clean up, according to Yahoo News.

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