3rd lawsuit filed against Exxon for 2011 Yellowstone oil spill

2013-07-08T16:15:00Z 2013-10-02T15:05:06Z 3rd lawsuit filed against Exxon for 2011 Yellowstone oil spillBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A third lawsuit has been filed alleging that ExxonMobil ignored warnings about the risk of keeping oil flowing through a pipeline under the Yellowstone River during heavy runoff and then failed to properly respond when the pipe burst and spilled 63,000 gallons of crude oil.

Yellowstone County residents Chere Allan and Elmer and Edna Albrecht have filed a lawsuit alleging negligence and other claims related to the July 1, 2011, oil spill caused by the rupture of the Silvertip Pipeline near Laurel.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and names as defendants ExxonMobil Oil Corp., Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. and Jason Montgomery, a pipeline company employee.

The lawsuit alleges Montgomery was the terminal superintendent of the pipeline who "ignored facts and warnings" about a possible failure of the pipe.

After the rupture, the lawsuit states, Montgomery "failed to properly and timely implement shut down procedures, causing more oil to drain into the Yellowstone River."

The lawsuit was filed in Yellowstone County District Court on June 28 by Billings attorneys Shane Colton and Joseph Cook. The case has been assigned to Judge Susan Watters.

A spokesman for ExxonMobil, Aaron Stryk, said the company has not been formally served with the lawsuit and could not comment.

Colton said Monday the lawsuit was filed after efforts to reach a settlement with the oil company failed. 

The suit is the third complaint filed since the spill, which cost the oil company about $135 million in cleanup costs along a 70-mile stretch of the river.

The company has recently challenged a $1.7 million fine imposed by federal authorities and is expected to make its case at a hearing scheduled for next week.

On July 1, a group of about 50 people gathered on the bank of the Yellowstone River at Coulson Park and called on the company to drop its challenge and pay the fine.  

The first lawsuit related to the Silvertip Pipeline was filed about three months after the spill by a dozen Yellowstone County property owners. A trial date in that case has been set by Judge Gregory Todd on May 27, 2014.  

Last October, a group of Eastern Montana landowners filed a lawsuit against the oil company in Gallatin County District Court. The 14 plaintiffs in that case argue that the spill caused harm to their property and livestock operations, damage to wildlife and health problems from exposure to oil. 

The most recent lawsuit says Elmer and Edna Albrecht lived on a "quiet oasis filled with wildlife and tranquility" along the river until the spill damaged the value and decreased the enjoyment of their 20-acre property.

Chere Allan, the other plaintiff, owns about 100 acres, with about 800 feet of riverfront, off Bighorn Road, the lawsuit states. Allan's property, where she lives, recreates and boards horses, has also diminished in value as a result of the oil spill, the lawsuit states. 

According to the lawsuit, federal pipeline regulators warned ExxonMobil in October 2010 that the Silvertip pipe was at risk during unusually high flows "that could impact the integrity of the pipelines if the pipelines were exposed by scouring of the river bottom and/or continued erosion of the river bank."

ExxonMobil ignored the warning, the lawsuit states. The company also ignored "additional concerns" made by Laurel officials and federal authorities during the period of near-record river flows before the pipeline rupture.

ExxonMobil shut down the pipeline for one day, the lawsuit states, but "quickly returned the flow of oil and profits" by reopening the pipeline.

"ExxonMobil and John Montgomery had been warned of the substantial risk the Silvertip Pipeline would fail during the high water of 2011," according to the lawsuit. "Nonetheless, those warnings were ignored and profits drove the decisions to continue to operate the Silvertip Pipeline."

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