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Oil spill in Yellowstone River

View of the crude oil that spill in and near the Yellowstone River.

Larry Mayer, Billings Gazette

GLENDIVE (AP) — Crews working to clean up crude oil that spilled in and near the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana and prevent it from traveling further downstream were hampered by ice covering much of the river, officials said Monday.

Meanwhile, according to the Billings Gazette Monday morning, some Glendive residents are reporting the smell and taste of oil in their drinking water.

The city water plant has stopped drawing water from the Yellowstone River as a precautionary measure. The EPA is taking samples at the water plant and at residences where people reported the smell and taste of oil in their water.

"We took samples this morning that are going to the lab in Billings. We'll have data back by tomorrow," said Paul Peronard, with the EPA.

Results should be available earlier than that from tests that are being conducted now at the water plant and area homes, Peronard said, though the spot test results aren't as definitive as the Billings lab analysis.

Glendive has enough water in reserve to last a few days without drawing more from the Yellowstone.

Drinking water contamination didn't seem likely, Peronard said, because oil floats on top of water and Glendive's water intake is 14 feet below the surface.

There were no community reports of oil traces in the drinking water Saturday, the first day of the spill. But on Sunday the reports started.

Glendive resident Carrie Flynn Keiser said she could smell and taste oil in her drinking water Sunday.

“We heard about it about an hour before we tasted it (in) the water,” she said.

Keiser, who lives at 600 Snyder Ave., said she was alerted to the spill because her mother in-law saw a friend’s Facebook post about the spill.

Her in-laws across town also are reporting an oily smell and taste in their water.

The mother of five said she does not want her children, the three children she takes care of, her husband or pets to drink the tainted water, she said. The home is are relying on a small storage tank in their basement. When that runs out, they'll buy bottled water, Keiser said.

Monday morning, Keiser was still waiting for authorities to explain what was going on with her water.

There were third-party reports that impacts to drinking water are minimal, but Keiser said she wasn't sure. “There’s a big impact. The water’s not drinkable at all.”


Officials with Bridger Pipeline LLC of Casper, Wyoming, have said the break in the 12-inch steel pipe happened Saturday morning in an area about 9 miles upstream from Glendive, a community in east-central Montana near the North Dakota border.

Bridger spokesman Bill Salvin said Monday that the company is confident that no more than 1,200 barrels - or 50,000 gallons - of oil spilled during the hour-long breach.

"Oil has made it into the river," Salvin said. "We do not know how much at this point."

An oil sheen has been seen near Sidney, almost 60 river miles downstream from Glendive, said Paul Peronard, the on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Booms are being placed in two areas of open water to try and trap oil with another collection site near Crane, which is about 30 miles downstream from the spill site.

"We want to put up a backstop so no free oil can get past this location," Peronard said Monday.

But locating the rest of the oil could prove to be difficult because some of it is trapped under the ice that covers much of the river.

"We really can't see it so we're going to have to hunt and peck through ice to get it out," Peronard said.

Bridger Pipeline crews were still working Monday to determine exactly where the breach occurred.

If it happened on the bank, some of the oil may be trapped in the soil near the river.

"If it happened underneath the river, then it's all in the river," Peronard said.

Initial water samples taken at the Glendive water treatment facility showed no sign of oil or gas contamination, said Peronard and Dave Parker, spokesman for Gov. Steve Bullock.

Glendive's intake station draws water from 14 feet beneath the river surface, while most of the oil was expected to be floating, Peronard said.

Some Glendive-area residents had reported an odor in their water and those reports are being investigated, officials said.

Bullock planned to visit the spill site Monday afternoon, Parker said.

The Poplar Pipeline system runs from Canada to Baker, Montana, and carries crude oil from the Bakken oil producing region in Montana and North Dakota. It remained shut down Monday while crews planned to pump out any remaining oil from the section of the pipeline where the breach occurred.

The pipeline receives oil at the Poplar Station in Roosevelt County, Fisher and Richey Stations in Richland County and at Glendive in Dawson County, all in Montana. It was last inspected in 2012, Salvin said, and is at least 8 feet below the Yellowstone River bed where it crosses the river near Glendive.

Bridger Pipeline, a subsidiary of True Cos., also owns and operates the Four Bears Pipeline System in North Dakota along with the Parshall Gathering System and the Powder River System in Wyoming, according to the company's website.

GLENDIVE (AP) -- Montana officials said Sunday that an oil pipeline breach spilled up to 50,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, but they said they are unaware of any threats to public safety or health.

The Bridger Pipeline Co. said the spill occurred about 10 a.m. Saturday. The initial estimate is that 300 to 1,200 barrels of oil spilled, the company said in a statement Sunday.

Some of the oil did get into the water, but the area where it spilled was frozen over and that could help reduce the impact, said Dave Parker, a spokesman for Gov. Steve Bullock.

"We think it was caught pretty quick, and it was shut down," Parker said. "The governor is committed to making the river is cleaned up."

Bridger Pipeline Co. said in the statement that it shut down the 10-inch-wide pipeline shortly before 11 a.m. Saturday. "Our primary concern is to minimize the environmental impact of the release and keep our responders safe as we clean up from this unfortunate incident," said Tad True, vice president of Bridger.

The EPA and state Department of Environmental Quality have responded to the area about 9 miles upriver from Glendive, Parker said.

An Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline broke near Laurel during flooding in July 2011, releasing 63,000 gallons of oil that washed up along an 85-mile stretch of riverbank.

Montana officials are trying to determine if oil could have been trapped by sediment and debris and settled into the riverbed.

Exxon Mobil is facing state and federal fines of up to $3.4 million from the spill. The company has said it spent $135 million on the cleanup and other work.

Montana and federal officials notified Exxon that they intend to seek damages for injuries to birds, fish and other natural resources from the 2011 spill. The company also is being asked to pay for long-term environmental studies and for lost opportunities for fishing and recreation during and since the cleanup.


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