Reps. Rehberg and Shuster tour Yellowstone River oil spill site

2011-08-20T20:30:00Z 2011-08-20T23:20:14Z Reps. Rehberg and Shuster tour Yellowstone River oil spill siteBy ROB ROGERS Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
August 20, 2011 8:30 pm  • 

The idea was to use the ExxonMobil oil spill along the Yellowstone River as an object lesson.

"We want to learn from mistakes," said U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa. "We want to continue to make sure it gets better."

Shuster and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg toured by helicopter the site of the July 1 oil spill Saturday afternoon. Shuster is chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Material and visited the spill site at Rehberg's request.

Shuster's subcommittee is working on a bill that would update federal pipeline safety regulations.

"It made a lot of sense to come up here," Shuster said. "It's always better to be on the ground."

The cleanup has progressed significantly since Exxon's Silvertip pipeline ruptured on the night of July 1, dumping an estimated 42,000 gallons of medium crude into the Yellowstone River.

The pipeline was buried an estimated 5 to 7 feet below the riverbed and investigators believe the pipe broke in two, possibly due to the flooding river.

Exxon is now securing permits from state and federal agencies to repair the pipe and rebury it 42 feet under the riverbed using horizontal directional drilling.

"We need to be cognizant that the Yellowstone River is wild and free," Rehberg said.

Without better safety measures in place, another flooded Yellowstone could expose other pipelines.

Rehberg, who last visited the spill site a week after the break, said he was impressed with the progress made by cleanup crews.

"We saw a lot of people working," he said. "It's headed off in the right direction."

The federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality have been on hand monitoring the cleanup.

Shuster said the federal government has a limited role in situations like this.

"There is a federal role when waters flow from one state to another," he said.

But, pointing to an example in his home state of Pennsylvania, he said the EPA regularly oversteps its bounds.

"The EPA in a lot of cases has gone wild," he said.

In most cases, states are well equipped to handle environmental issues. They don't need federal agencies coming in and complicating things, he said.

Rehberg remained silent as Shuster spoke.

County Commissioner John Ostlund accompanied the two congressmen on the tour. For him, it's evidence that the county is getting the support it needs.

"I'm really glad Congressman Shuster and Congressman Rehberg came out because this is how you make things better," he said.

Viewing the spill and seeing the response is the best way to get a handle on the situation and understand how to respond to and prevent disasters like these in the future, he said.

All the officials on hand praised Exxon for the response. Both Ostlund and Rehberg have been in contact with landowners affected by the spill and both said they have heard no complaints with Exxon's conduct.

"They've done a good job," Ostlund said. 

Contact Rob Rogers at rrogers@billingsgazette.com or 657-1231.

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