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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

The pipeline responsible for the Yellowstone River oil spill near Glendive was a moderate risk for failure in 2011, according the federal reports.

Bank erosion along the south side of the Bridger Pipeline crossing had made the 12-inch diameter oil line more vulnerable to damage, according to the Yellowstone Pipeline Risk Assessment. 

The pipeline was determined to be a moderate risk for breakage In the 2012 Yellowstone River Pipeline Risk Assessment, which was completed the 2011 rupture in Yellowstone County.

The report was compiled by the Yellowstone River Conservation District Council, and said that the right bank of the pipe crossing was vulnerable to erosion because upstream river flow had recently shifted.

UPDATE 11:24 a.m.: Ice is complicating oil spill cleanup efforts on the Yellowstone River near Glendive.

An undetermined amount of the 12,500 to 50,000 gallons of oil that spilled into the Yellowstone on Saturday is trapped beneath a sheet of river ice and cannot be seen, according to to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Crews need to get equipment onto the river for cleanup, but in many spaces the ice is too thin, according to EPA. The area with the thickest ice appears to be near Crane, some 30 miles downstream from the spill. Crews working near Crane to establish a backstop for oil collection.

"If the ice isn't thick enough and we cannot operate safely, then we're not going to do it," said Paul Peronard, of EPA. "The fact is, I'm not risking any lives."

Ice is both a help and hindrance to cleaning up the spill from Bridger Pipeline LLC's 12-inch steel pipe, which crosses beneath the Yellowstone roughly 6 miles upstream from Glendive. The spill was discovered Saturday after Bridger Pipeline detected oil flow irregularities at the two shutoff valves book ending the pipe's river crossing.

Though smooth on the surface, the ice's chunky texture beneath the water helps slow the oil's movement, Peronard said.

But tracking the oil flow beneath the ice is difficult, so is trapping it once it surfaces. Containment boom, that floating, rope-like material used to hem in oil spills on water bodies, doesn't stand up well to floating ice chunks.

UPDATE 10:02 a.m.: 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.”

AP STORY: GLENDIVE — 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.

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.


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