Wildlife deaths increase and more crude found in debris piles in Yellowstone oil spill

2011-07-18T17:45:00Z 2011-07-19T00:02:40Z Wildlife deaths increase and more crude found in debris piles in Yellowstone oil spill

By ROB ROGERS

Of The Gazette Staff

The Billings Gazette
July 18, 2011 5:45 pm  • 

Cleanup crews over the weekend found an oiled bald eagle and pockets of black crude trapped by debris piles along the Yellowstone River.

Biologists believe the bald eagle won’t survive the winter unless it’s cleaned, said Karen Nelson with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Crews are working now to trap the bird so it can be treated.

Workers also have found four geese and a cooper’s hawk covered in oil. They’ve trapped one goose and are working to capture the others, Nelson said.

The number of dead wildlife also increased over the weekend. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported finding dead two great horned owls, a wood duck, two ducklings, two fish, a fox, a beaver and a bunting.

Of those animals, one of the owls, the wood duck, the ducklings and the fish were covered in oil. All the animals will be tested to discover the cause of death.

The next big challenge for cleanup crews will be pockets of oil discovered around and underneath the large debris piles gathered up by the flooding Yellowstone.

Steve Merritt, the Environmental Protection Agency’s on-scene coordinator of the cleanup effort, described the amount of oil trapped by the debris piles as a “significant quantity.”

“Those will need to be removed,” he said.

Working with the incident command team — which includes representatives from ExxonMobil, the EPA and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality — Merritt has formed a special group tasked with figuring out the most effective way to get at the debris piles and remove the oil.

The EPA also is waiting for the final draft of the cleanup work plan for the Yellowstone spill.

Exxon submitted the preliminary draft of the plan late last week and groups like Montana DEQ, the Crow Tribe, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the state’s historical preservation society have weighed in on it.

Exxon now has until the end of the business day Tuesday to submit its final draft.

State DEQ officials were expecting the first batch of soil samples to be returned today. Tom Livers, deputy director of the DEQ said by Monday afternoon the samples still had not come back.

Preliminary tests performed by the EPA on air and water along the spill site have showed “no threat to human health,” Merritt said.

He said his office is still awaiting results from more thorough testing.

In all, cleanup crews have collected 942 barrels of “oily liquid” from the July 1 oil pipe rupture, which sent an estimated 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of crude into the Yellowstone.

Merritt described the oily liquid as a water and oil mix, possibly 1 percent of it being oil.

Crews also have collected 965 yards of booms, pads and debris.

The oily liquid is sent to Exxon’s Billings refinery. The soiled booms, pads and debris are sent to a Utah landfill with which Exxon has a contract.

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

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