A small group of boaters started the second leg of their independent survey of the Yellowstone River oil spill earlier this week and so far have marked about two dozen affected spots in backwaters from Billings and to the east.
Organized by kayaker Gary Steele, of Missoula, the Oily River Rendezvous has sent two small groups of boaters on the river in an effort to document areas farther downstream affected by the spill.
“The last oil we’ve seen is about 55 miles from the spill site,” Steele said. “We aren’t finding any pools or anything, but you can see the marks in the vegetation along the banks.”
The first group, made up of two kayakers and two canoers, started near South Billings Boulevard on July 16 and traveled about 20 miles downstream.
Steele said that’s where they saw the most oil along the banks, which he described as like a bathtub ring. They marked where they’d seen oil and took samples.
“It’s certainly not 100 percent of the story of what’s going on,” he said. “But it certainly tells us that those areas need to be looked at.”
On Tuesday, they put into the water again near Huntley after new boaters arrived to help and three of the ones from Saturday left.
That group made it about 35 miles downstream and they plan to reach Forsyth by end of the week, when they’ll evaluate whether to continue down the river.
So far, the oil has been the worst closest to the spill site and quickly dissipated as the group moved east.
“I was trying not to expect anything,” Steele said. “I was just trying to look. In some ways it’s kind of encouraging that we’re not finding more than we are.”
However, there’s one image that’s stuck with Steele from near Pompeys Pillar.
“We found oil running out of the sandy bank there,” he said. “That’s the only place we’ve seen anything like that. That’s the place that we saw that’s the most vivid.”
They plan on going about 35 miles a day and will make a decision on whether to continue soon.
“If I’m still finding stuff I’ll try to find another boater or just go solo,” Steele said. “I have a feeling it’s probably going to start running out in another 50 miles or so though.”