Oil spill in Yellowstone River fouls water, miles of shoreline; cleanup under way

ExxonMobil oil pipeline ruptured
2011-07-02T00:40:00Z 2011-12-22T22:58:08Z Oil spill in Yellowstone River fouls water, miles of shoreline; cleanup under wayGazette Staff The Billings Gazette
July 02, 2011 12:40 am  • 

UPDATE 1 p.m.: Treasure County officials are expecting the oil slick from Friday night's oil spill in the Yellowstone to reach the Myers Bridge by 3 p.m.

Noelle Pinkerton, Treasure County director of disaster and emergency services, has been notifying ditch owners, farmers and other landowners with riverfront access of the oil spill and that it's moving their way.

"I just got through talking to folks," she said.

Pinkerton first heard about the oil spill Saturday morning from a town council member who had read news of the disaster. Shortly thereafter, a dispatcher with the county sheriff called to relay the news.

But like Custer County, she said no word of the spill came to them through official state channels.


UPDATE 11:55 a.m.: Custer County officials expressed some frustration Saturday morning that communities downstream from Billings had not been properly notified of Friday night's oil spill.

"Nobody had been informed," said James Zabrocki, Custer County director of disaster and emergency services.

Zabrocki got a call Saturday morning from a Miles City public utilities official who read about the oil spill in news reports online.

According to Zabrocki, when he called the state Disaster and Emergency Services, he was told the state Department of Environmental Quality was supposed to be calling the communities downriver.

"I don't know if that ever happened," Zabrocki said.

At this point, Custer County officials are watching and waiting. Zabrocki said they'd monitor water quality and shut down intake at the city's water treatment plant if they start seeing oil.

"That's about it," he said. "That's about all we can do."


 

UPDATE 11:10 a.m. : ExxonMobil has two cleanup divisions in place along the Yellowstone River and is expecting an additional 100 contractors from Washington to help in the effort.

Kelly Drain, emergency response supervisor for the Billings refinery, said his two divisions are using absorbent pads and booms to leach up oil from the riverbanks as part of the initial 24-hour response to the spill.

Division A is working the area from Laurel to Duck Creek Bridge and Division B is working from Duck Creek Bridge up to Lockwood, he said.

In addition to the 100 contractors coming to help, Exxon also has mobilized its Global Response Team from Houston to help.


 

UPDATE 10:30 a.m. : ExxonMobil will direct the cleanup efforts of the oil spill, said Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County director of disaster and emergency services.

"Exxon really is going to be the incident command," Winslow said. All other agencies like state Department of Environmental Quality, Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the Environmental Protection Agency, will all monitor Exxon's effort.

Officials in downstream communities have been notified of the oil spill, Winslow said.


UPDATE 9:30 a.m.: An ExxonMobil oil pipeline just east of the Laurel Bridge ruptured around 11:30 p.m. Friday, dumping oil into the Yellowstone River.

In a press conference Saturday morning, Yellowstone County and ExxonMobil officials said they don't know yet what caused the break in the 12-inch pipeline or how much oil escaped into the river.

The pipeline runs below the Yellowstone riverbed. Emergency crews shut the pipeline down just before midnight, said Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County director of disaster and emergency services.

"Throughout the night, we've worked to determine what happened," he said.

The oil slick started in Laurel and, with the speed of the river, had moved to Custer by about 9 a.m. A light sheen of petroleum can been seen along banks and in eddies all down the river between the two points.

"We regret the release," said Pam Malek, a spokeswoman for ExxonMobil.

An emergency cleanup crew, Exxon's Global Response Team, is on its way to Billings from Houston. The local refinery's cleanup response team has been on site most of Friday night. Saturday morning they were at Coulson Park in Lockwood cleaning up oil there.

"It's important that we get it resolved," Malek said.

She asked property owners along the river who find oil or see damage to call Exxon's claims line at 888-382-0043.

The Environmental Protection Agency also has dispatched a crew from Denver to monitor the cleanup.

The Billings Water Department shut down its intake line from the river Friday night when the pipeline break was first reported. Crews there have been testing the water all night and found the water was safe. The intake was turned back on at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, Winslow said.

Winslow said pipes have been built and installed under the Yellowstone riverbed for years.

"This is the first time I've heard of a rupture," he said.


UPDATE 8 a.m.: Emergency officials say that a break in an Exxon oil pipeline caused the spill into the Yellowstone River early Saturday.

During a press conference at the Emergency Operations Center, Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services director, and other officials said that the oil slick is now between Worden and Custer.

The flow of oil has been stopped, officials said. Exxon told officials it is monitoring the area to make sure there are no additional leaks.

Exxon is sending a global response team to Billings from Houston.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy said that the Billings water treatment plant was not compromised by the spill and that water is safe to drink.

Laurel officials said the spill was east of their water plant and did not affect the water supply.


UPDATE 6:30 a.m.: Residents are being allowed to return to their homes along the river, according to a City/County Emergency Communications dispatcher. The Red Cross center for evacuees that was set up at MetraPark will close down this morning.

Officials said the strong odor of oil is not hazardous, but may be an irritant to those exposed to it.


UPDATE 5 a.m.: Evacuees who went to a Red Cross center set up at MetraPark's Cedar Hall were told they could return to their homes.

Glenn Wells, who lives in the River Grove Estates near Mullowney Lane, said he was asked to evacuate his home by a Montana Highway Patrol trooper at 2:30 a.m.  Wells, his wife and a friend went to the Red Cross center as it was being set up. Three families were at the center, he said.

"I still smell like oil," he said. "My whole house smells like diesel fuel. It was everywhere on the river -- an oil slick on Billings' West End.

"The river will never be the same," he said.

Wells said a Red Cross volunteer said it was safe to return to his home because the oil smell was merely an "irritant." Because his wife was having trouble breathing, Wells said he took her to the Billings Clinic emergency room where she was being treated.

He said they have a wedding reception scheduled at their home on Sunday.


UPDATE 4:20 a.m.:  Officials are waiting for daylight to get a better understanding of the oil spill that prompted evacuation of residents along the Yellowstone River.

Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services director, said that after sunrise officials will be able to make a visual inspection of the river from the ground and air and assess the size of the spill.

He said some residents in the Thiel Road area have been allowed to return to their homes. Evacuations were triggered, in part, by the strong fumes coming from the oil spill, Winslow said.


INITIAL REPORT: An oil spill on the Yellowstone River prompted evacuations from Laurel to Lockwood early Saturday morning.

Local officials had few details as of 2 a.m. as they continued to investigate what spilled and how, but people in the area said the stench of oil was strong, and the water was black and oily.

In the Duck Creek area, thick black oil could be seen bubbling up from under the Duck Creek bridge. Some oil was washing up on the banks of the river, but most of it appeared to be following the main flow of the river.

Oil could be smelled as far away from the river as a half-mile.

Starting around midnight, county officials were notifying residents along the river that they should evacuate. A Yellowstone County Sheriff's deputy in the Duck Creek area said around 1 a.m. that the evacuation stretches from Thiel Road and Highway 212 South at Laurel to the Blue Creek area.

The Blue Creek Fire Department was called just after 1:15 a.m. to assist in the evacuation. Dispatchers were beginning to call residents in the Huntley area just after 2:30 a.m.

Evacuees were being sent to Bypass Truck Repair on Thiel Road and to the Sweetheart Bakery on Highway 212 South.

Pat Kimmett, manager of the CHS Inc. refinery, located at 803 U.S. Highway 212 South, said at 2 a.m. that officials were still trying to determine what the source of the leak is.

"There's a lot of uncertainty right now," he said.

Duane Winslow, Yellowstone County Disaster and Emergency Services director, said ExxonMobil has turned off its pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River. Kimmett said CHS also shut down its pipeline in the area as a precaution. Winslow said CHS and Conoco don't think the spill is coming from their pipelines.

All three refineries have pipelines that cross under the river, Winslow said. However, Kimmett said CHS does not have a crude oil pipeline that crosses the Yellowstone at Laurel. The pipeline that it shut down runs into the Laurel refinery from the north and west of town, he said.

"We have inspected our site and we have not been able to identify anything coming from the Laurel refinery," Kimmett said. "We're going to continue to look until we absolutely know what the source is, but we have no indication that it's coming from the CHS refinery."

He said CHS has mobilized its spill team and activated its incident command center and is working with the city of Laurel, which is leading the response efforts.

Winslow said officials also will open the emergency operating center in Billings.

Bob Castleberry, who lives on North River Road in the Laurel area about three miles east of Highway 212, said late Friday that the river is covered in crude oil.

"It's just black," he said. "It's just black with it."

Castleberry said he is trapped at his home because of flooding. He said he has water about five feet deep surrounding his house.

"I can't get out and nobody can get here," he said. "I'm stuck here."

Ericka Cox was driving in the area of South Highway 212 and Thiel Road and could smell oil.

"It just absolutely stinks," she said. "It doesn't look or smell good."

She said she stopped and felt the water about a mile back from Thiel Road.

"With the water running kind of waking up on the road and stuff, you can see where it's leaving oil on the road," she said.

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