ExxonMobil attempts to limit oil spill on Yellowstone River


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Workers on Sunday attempted to limit the spread of an oil spill from an ExxonMobil pipeline in Montana’s Yellowstone River, as state officials promised outraged residents more government oversight of the company-led cleanup.

As much as 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of oil spilled Saturday before the flow through the damaged pipeline was stopped, officials said.


“We can’t really tell what it’s going to do for our fisheries downstream,” Eric Beebee, 37, said of the oil as he worked at Bighorn Fly and Tackle Shop in Billings on Sunday. “If it was going to affect anybody, it’s going to be the farmers and the ranchers because the water is pushed up so high, when it recedes, it’s going to be left on their land.”

ExxonMobil pipeline workers first became aware of a problem when pressure readings for the stretch of pipeline dropped at 11:41 p.m. Friday, Mountain Time, and shut the line pumps within six minutes, according to Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing, who held a news conference near the site in south-central Montana on Sunday.

Pruessing said officials had temporarily shut the foot-wide pipeline in May because of concerns about seasonal flooding but decided to reopen it a day later after reviewing its record and deciding it was safe.

“We did a safety analysis and concluded the line was safe to operate” ExxonMobil spokesman Alan Jeffers said

The 20-year-old pipeline was last inspected in 2009 using a robotic device designed to detect corrosion and other flaws, Jeffers said. Most recent tests, in December, showed the pipe was 5 to 8 feet below the riverbed, he said. But that was before record rains and melting snowpack flooded the river in May, which Exxon and government officials have said may have exposed the pipe to damage from debris.


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Photo: ExxonMobil contractors spread absorbent pads to soak up oil along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Billings, Mont., on Sunday. A company pipeline about 20 miles upriver near Laurel, Mont., ruptured and spilled an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone on Saturday. Credit: Matthew Brown/Associated Press