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EPA and DOT direct ExxonMobil on corrective actions on Silvertip pipeline after rupture

Both the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—which is directing and overseeing the cleanup—and the US Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) are directing ExxonMobil on corrective actions following the rupture of the Silvertip pipeline. The break spilled up to 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River, which is in flood stage, before the pipeline was cut off, according to the company. (Earlier post.)

EPA. EPA issued an order to ExxonMobil, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, directing the company to take a number of clean-up and restoration activities as a result of an oil spill into the Yellowstone River. EPA will continue in its role in directing and overseeing the cleanup and restoration of the river and ensuring the protection of human health and the environment.

EPA’s primary concern is protection of human health and the environment, and the agency is conducting both air and water sampling to determine what impacts the spill may have on air or water quality, while also ensuring the responsible party is held accountable. EPA has initiated air and water quality sampling and will make the results available to the public as soon as the data are available. Air monitoring using real-time instruments that look for volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide is ongoing with no detections in the last 72 hours.

Additionally, air sampling for benzene has been conducted between Laurel, MT, and Billings, MT, with no detectable levels. The agency is deploying additional air samplers at specific locations to ensure the continued protection of the community and emergency responders.

EPA is coordinating its response actions with the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and state and local agencies and says it will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure ExxonMobil, as the responsible party, addresses any and all potential impacts of this spill.

In addition, PHMSA is responsible for determining the cause of the pipeline failure and has been onsite since Saturday.

PHMSA. On Tuesday, PHMSA issued a Corrective Action Order to ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPC) that will require the company to make safety improvements along the Silvertip hazardous liquid pipeline. PHMSA’s Corrective Action Order will require ExxonMobil to re-bury the pipeline underneath the Yellowstone river bed to protect it from external damage and conduct a risk assessment on the Silvertip pipeline where it crosses any waterway. EMPC will then need to submit a restart plan before operation can resume.

The Silvertip Pipeline is approximately 69 miles in length and transports crude oil from the Silvertip station in Elk Basin, Wyoming, to an ExxonMobil refinery in Billings, Montana. PHMSA has three inspectors on site and they are working with the EPA and US Coast Guard to conduct investigations and assist in oil spill response activities. The cause of the release has not yet been determined.

This spring, in the wake of several major pipeline accidents, Secretary LaHood announced a pipeline safety action plan to immediately begin addressing concerns about the state of the US’ aging pipeline infrastructure. Secretary LaHood called upon US pipeline owners and operators to conduct a comprehensive review of their oil and gas pipelines to identify areas of high risk and accelerate critical repair and replacement work. Secretary LaHood has also proposed federal legislation to strengthen oversight on pipeline safety.

The legislation would increase the maximum civil penalties for pipeline violations from $100,000 per day to $250,000 per day, and from $1 million for a series of violations to $2.5 million for a series of violations. The proposal would also authorize the Department to close regulatory loopholes, strengthen risk management requirements, add more inspectors, and improve data reporting to help identify potential pipeline safety risks early.

On Thursday, Montana governor Brian Schweitzer pulled his staff out of a joint oil spill command center directed by the EPA, alleging that the center was secretive and largely run by the Texas oil giant, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Current status. The affected stretch of the Yellowstone River is the home of the Pallid Sturgeon, an endangered fish species. Its banks also serve as nesting areas for migratory birds.

In an update Thursday evening, ExxonMobil said that more than 500 people are now involved in the response and cleanup effort including ExxonMobil’s North America Regional Response Team, the Clean Harbors and ER oil spill response organizations and additional contractors. More than 300 people are along the river banks today to clean up oil.

More than 75,000 feet of absorbent boom is on site, with more than 8,000 feet deployed to clean up oil adjacent to the river. More than 400,000 absorbent pads are on site with more than 150,000 deployed.

Two isolated spots of oil have been located beyond 20 miles of the release point; however, we have not discovered any oil between 20 and 40 miles from the site of the release. One spot was located approximately 40 miles from the site of the release and the second spot was found approximately 80 miles away.

Aerial flights are scheduled to survey an area up to 200 miles from the site of the oil release and as further information comes in. Eight boats are staged at Coulson Park for deployment for monitoring on the river when conditions permit and 12 additional vessels have been ordered.



This accident could have been prevented, but the laws that existed 20 years ago were not good enough. The governor of Montana has received assurances that the pipe will be brought up to current standards, he should make sure they do and not just accept verbal assurances.

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