ExxonMobil must re-bury its Silvertip Pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River and take other measures before restarting the pipeline, after it leaked up to 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the river over the weekend, federal authorities have ordered.
The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued a Corrective Action Order that will require ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. to make safety improvements along the Silvertip hazardous liquid pipeline.
Photos: Center for Environment, Commerce & Energy
|Up to 42,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River.|
ExxonMobil must re-bury the pipeline underneath the river bed to protect it from external damage and conduct a risk assessment on the pipeline where it crosses any waterway, the agency said. The company must then submit a restart plan before operation can resume.
Leak under Investigation
Twelve inches in diameter and about 69 miles long, the Silvertip Pipeline transports crude oil from the Silvertip station in Elk Basin, WY, to an ExxonMobil Refinery in Billings, MT.
The 20-year-old Silvertip pipeline delivers 40,000 barrels a day along a route that passes beneath the river.
On Friday (July 1), an accident on the pipeline released 750 to 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.
The cause of the release has not yet been determined, although the local fire chief told the Associated Press that high waters might have eroded parts of the riverbed, exposing the pipeline to debris.
PHMSA is on the scene, working with the Environmental Protection Agency and Coast Guard to investigate the cause of the spill and assist with clean-up.
$1.5B Verdict Returned
The spill occurred the same day it was announced that a jury had awarded $1.5 billion in damages to 160 plaintiffs suing ExxonMobil over a 2006 leak at a Maryland gasoline station.
That case involved a leak of 26,000 gallons of gasoline over 37 days in January and February from a pressurized gasoline line in Jacksonville, MD, according to Reuters.
The Silvertip pipeline burst about 10 miles west of Billings, coating parts of the river where it runs past the town of Laurel, the New York Times reported. Fearing an explosion, officials evacuated about 140 people for four hours on Saturday morning. The pipeline was also shut down for a day in May, due to fears of rising waters in the region, the Times said.
The EPA is directing about 350 responders on the scene to clean up the spill. Residents are concerned that the spill has already extended beyond ExxonMobil’s designated clean-up boundary.
|The pipeline, 20 years old, carries 40,000 barrels of crude each day.|
“The safety of our nation’s pipelines is a priority, and the investigation into this incident is ongoing,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
“It is our responsibility to ensure pipelines are safely delivering energy to U.S. households and businesses, and when companies are not living up to our safety standards, we will take action. We will continue to work with the EPA, while ensuring that those responsible are held accountable.”
Pipeline Safety Measures Announced
This spring, in the wake of several major pipeline accidents, LaHood announced a pipeline safety action plan to immediately begin addressing concerns about the state of the nation’s aging pipeline infrastructure. He called on U.S. 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.
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.