ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. has more work to do on its cleanup plan for the oil-fouled Yellowstone River, but most of the spilled crude has washed away and cannot be recovered, federal officials say.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the company until July 17 to submit a revised plan for cleaning up damage from the approximately 1,000 barrels of oil that spilled into the pristine river on July 1.
The cause of the pipeline break is still under investigation, but early speculation has suggested that the pipeline was not buried deeply enough under the riverbed and was smashed by debris in the strong currents.
Before the spill, ExxonMobil said the pipeline was 12 feet under the river bed. The company now says it was between five and eight feet under the river.
New Plan Demanded
ExxonMobil must revise how it will capture the spilled oil, remove the broken pipe without causing pollution downstream, and restore the wildlife habitat and private property, said Steve Merritt, the EPA’s on-scene coordinator for the spill.
Details of the preliminary plan will not be released until the EPA and Montana approve it. EPA has approved several elements of the plan, including disposal of hazardous waste and sampling, Merritt said.
|Cleanup continues along the Yellowstone River, as the cause of the pipeline break under the river remains under investigation.|
In addition, the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration told ExxonMobil last week that it would have to rebury the pipeline after it is repaired.
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 pipeline delivers 40,000 barrels a day along a route that passes beneath the river.
Fouled Sites Increase
Cleanup crews have found 45 locations fouled by oil along the river—15 more sites than were reported Saturday—and more sites are likely to be found as crews reach areas previously covered by high water, Merritt said Tuesday (July 12).
However, the overall extent of the damage does not appear to be growing, Merritt said. Most of the pollution remained between the spill site and 25 miles downstream, with scattered areas out to Pompeys Pillar National Monument, about 45 miles downstream, the Associated Press reported.
ExxonMobil says there have been no confirmed reports of impact to wildlife.
However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said biologists were monitoring a handful of oil-tainted wildlife, including Canada geese, a white pelican and a heron.
Little Oil Recovery Seen
High water continues to prevent inspection of the pipeline damage, and there is no timetable for repair.
Crews had been working to recover the oil with booms, absorbent pads and vacuums. Other crew members were reviewing the damage by air and along the shoreline.
However, only 1 to 5 percent of the crude is now expected to be recovered, because most has been washed away, as far as 240 miles downstream, EPA said this week.
On Monday, Merritt said work was moving from the recovery of oil to the cleaning or removal of vegetation covered in crude. He showed photos showing progress made at several cleanup sites that crews have been able to reach.
‘Stay Until the Job is Done’
"We've said from the outset that we are going to clean this up and stay until the job is done," ExxonMobil spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman said.
More than 100 claims—most of them property claims—have been submitted to Exxon Mobil from individuals, Bergman said.
Despite reports of some people sickened by the fumes coming off the crude, officials said that air and water monitoring to-date has suggested no long-term health concerns.
The EPA planned to test drinking water from several hundred residential wells downstream of the spill as a precaution and take soil samples from oiled cropland.
Also this week, a five-person team of oil spill experts from California arrived in Montana to assist. Montana Department of Environmental Quality deputy director Tom Livers said the team would provide an independent source of expertise.
Livers said the oil company appeared to be working in good faith.
"So far, we haven't seen any effort to take shortcuts," Livers told the Associated Press. "The proof will be when we're really done with the work plan and can make sure the state's cleanup standards are in there."