ExxonMobil not cooperating, Schweitzer says

2011-07-21T20:00:00Z 2011-07-21T22:00:33Z ExxonMobil not cooperating, Schweitzer saysBy TOM LUTEY Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
July 21, 2011 8:00 pm  • 

Three weeks after polluting the Yellowstone River, ExxonMobil continues to withhold information key to cleaning up the mess, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Thursday.

State officials have asked ExxonMobil to disclose the chemicals flowing through the crude oil line when it ruptured south of Laurel July 1, sending thousands of gallons into the Yellowstone River. Schweitzer said the state deserves to know exactly what's being cleaned up before signing off on a recovery plan.

ExxonMobil has described the oil as medium crude pumped from Wyoming and parts of Montana, but that description doesn't account for the hundreds of chemicals that comprise crude oil and can vary.

"How could we ever sign off on a cleanup if we don't know what we're cleaning up?" Schweitzer said during a telephone interview from Fort Hood, Texas. "I don't know if it's enough of an answer to me that, 'You know, it's Wyoming crude.' When you're in the business of refining crude, you're getting it from all kinds of places."

ExxonMobil last week confirmed the Silvertip pipeline regularly transported heavier and more toxic Alberta tar sands crude. But it clarified that while tar sands oil was in the line, it wasn't located where Silvertip failed beneath the Yellowstone River.

State Department of Environmental Quality officials said Thursday that almost asphalt-like consistency of the crude polluting the Yellowstone could indicate it wasn't just the sweet, medium grade crude pumped in from Wyoming. State officials have collected samples, which were sent to separate labs to decipher the crude's chemistry.

The tar sands revelation came two weeks after the pipeline burst, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which indicated last week that it was just learning Canadian oil was in the line.

Thursday, ExxonMobil reiterated that it had disclosed details about the oil earlier.

"We've already said that Wyoming crude is what was spilled," said Karen Matusic, of ExxonMobil. "It's medium-weight crude."

Federal and state authorities involved in the cleanup have suggested heavy metals may have been part of the spill. ExxonMobil engineers should readily know for refining purposes what chemicals are in the crude, Schweitzer said. The state has also asked for pipeline data so it can double-check the volume and make sure the spill didn't exceed ExxonMobil's estimate.

The conflict over disclosure exposed a widening communication gap between state officials and ExxonMobil. Asked to disclose all written correspondence between the governor's office and ExxonMobil since the three week-old spill began, Schweitzer's office produced just 14 pages, including state requests for information that haven't been answered.

The state has requested that no work be done on the ruptured pipeline unless representatives for the state and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are present. While ExxonMobil indicated it would give that state a heads up when work occurred, it also indicated it couldn't rule out working on the pipeline without notifying state officials if it was working to mitigate or avert damage.

The state also asked that ExxonMobil preserve all documents related to the ruptured pipeline, to which ExxonMobil asked the state to do the same.

Schweitzer balked at ExxonMobil's request, noting the government had to open its own oil spill operations office after concluding that ExxonMobil's operations center wasn't transparent enough for state officials to work there.

Contact Tom Lutey at

tlutey@billingsgazette.com or 657-1288

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