The ExxonMobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana ruptured late Friday night, leaking 1,000 barrels of oil into the river. ExxonMobil estimates that approximately 160,000 litres of oil seeped into the river, one of the principal tributaries of the upper Missouri River.
The spill has forced hudreds of evacuations, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that only a small fraction of the spilled oil is likely to be recovered. Its unclear how far the damage will extend along the river, but fishing and farming are likely to be impacted.
Record rainfall in the last month has caused widespread flooding, and compromised spill cleanup efforts. While residents wait impatiently for the arrival of Exxon cleanup crews (who are only now arriving on site), Exxon is engaging in image control by trying to convince people that the spill is not as bad as it seems.
An Exxon Mobil executive said shoreline damage was limited to the Yellowstone between Laurel and Billings. President Gary Pruessing said company observers had seen “very little soiling” beyond Billings, and that the oil appeared to be evaporating and dissipating into the river. Exxon claims the bulk of the damage is contained within 16 kilometres of the spill, but EPA spokeswoman Sonya Pennock confirms oil has been seen 65 kilometres away, with some reports confirming as many as 160 kilometres.
Exxon also claims that no injured wildlife has been found, which is not as of yet verified.
Exxon’s safety record on their Silvertip pipeline has already been questioned. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a warning letter to Exxon, citing seven safety violations along the ruptured line. Two related to emergency response and pipeline corrosion training.
It has also been revealed that in May, the pipeline was temporarily shut down due to concerns over the rising waters of the Yellowstone. The company decided to restart the line the following day, deciding the risk was low. More like they wanted to keep their profits soaring.
Up to 100 emergency response workers from Exxon Mobil are expected are expected to arrive late today.
Head over to CBS to read their coverage, and check back for more on this story.