An oil pipeline company will pay Montana $1 million for a 2015 spill that put 31,000 gallons into the Yellowstone River and contaminated Glendive's water supply.
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality announced the civil penalty against Bridger Pipeline LLC on Thursday. The penalty followed a public comment period.
The penalty will be paid as $200,000 to the state's general fund and at least $800,000 on approved "supplemental environmental projects" aimed at reducing pollution, benefiting public health and restoring the environment, according to the DEQ.
"Our next step will be to work on the proposal related to the SEP," said Wendy Owen, spokeswoman for True Oil, which operates Bridger Pipeline, "and we will be providing that to the state."
On around Jan. 17, 2015, the pipeline split at a weld and oil began spilling into the Yellowstone, just upstream from Glendive. Around the same time, residents of the town began reporting a bad taste and smell from drinking water. The community switched to bottled sources.
Benzene, a carcinogen, was detected in the drinking water at a level three times the limit for long-term exposure risk, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Oil was detected in fish captured near the leak site.
Ice covering the river made recovery and containment difficult, at times halting the effort. Much of the oil traveled downstream under the ice, according to the DEQ. Oil sheens were reported as far away as Williston, North Dakota. Crews recovered less than 10 percent of the oil.
The busted line was the responsibility of Bridger Pipeline LLC, which is one of many companies operated by True Oil out of Casper, Wyoming. The business had a history of 30 spills and a number of fines by the time of the Glendive incident.
Prior to the penalty on Thursday, Bridger Pipeline paid for spill response, cleanup and site management work by the DEQ, according to department spokeswoman Jeni Flatow. To date, the company has paid $80,000 toward those costs, she said.
The company also paid as much as $100,000 for monitoring equipment at Glendive's water treatment plant, according to Mayor Jerry Jimison.
“As far as the city of Glendive is concerned, our water plant is back up and functioning flawlessly," he said. "We are happy with the final result here in Glendive.”
A separate environmental assessment will continue, which could lead to more fines for Bridger Pipeline. In October, the Montana Department of Justice announced it would seek compensation for damages caused in the spill.
That effort includes the DOJ's Natural Resource Damage Program and the U.S. Department of the Interior. It's still in the planning stages to determine the scope of the assessment, said Beau Downing, environmental science specialist at the justice department.
The assessment will determine what should be paid for the spill's damage to the ecosystem. It's different from the DEQ penalty announced Thursday, which deals with remediation projects for the future.
"The Natural Resource Damage Program functions differently," Downing said. "There are resources held in trust by the governor of the state of Montana."
That includes plant, animal and environmental resources, he said. There is no timeline for its completion.
The same assessment was completed in a separate incident last year, when state and federal officials announced a $12 million penalty against ExxonMobil Corp.
In 2011, Exxon's Silvertip Pipeline leaked 63,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River near Laurel. The penalty will go toward environmental restoration.