Exxon pipeline ruptures, sending 42,000 gallons of oil downstream.
The AP reports:
Hundreds of barrels of crude oil spilled into Montana’s Yellowstone River after an ExxonMobil pipeline beneath the riverbed ruptured, sending a plume 25 miles downstream and forcing temporary evacuations, officials said.
The break near Billings in south-central Montana fouled the riverbank and forced municipalities and irrigation districts Saturday to close intakes… It was unclear how far the plume might travel.
ExxonMobil officials estimated that the pipeline spilled between 750 and 1,000 barrels of crude oil–up to 42,000 gallons–before the flow was stopped. About 140 people in the Laurel area were evacuated, due to concerns about noxious fumes and possible explosions. Crews are working to clean up the oil plume, which has been measured at twenty-five miles.
For its part, ExxonMobil has sent a team to help with the cleanup and issued a statement that it “deeply regrets this release.”
This spill is important from a policy standpoint because the oil industry has plans to build new pipelines across the continent, insisting that the current pipelines are safe.
The Keystone XL project, an extension of the Keystone Pipeline, will carry oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Illinois, Oklahoma, and eventually Texas. Meanwhile, the Enbridge Northern Gateway would export tar sands oil to the coast of British Columbia. These proposals have met strong resistance from environmental and community rights groups, and many First Nations bands oppose the Northern Gateway because it would run straight through their traditional lands.
The oil spill in the Yellowstone River is hardly an isolated event. In May, for instance, TransCanada suspended oil shipments on the Keystone pipeline following two small spills in the same month.
More dangerous than the risk of spills is the expansion of Alberta’s tar sands that would probably follow the construction of new pipelines. Called the “most destructive project on earth,” the Canadian tar sands use a process that emits three times as much greenhouse gas pollution as conventional oil production. The tar sands operations also use vast amounts of water and leave toxic tailings ponds that kill hundreds of birds a year.
We know that Exxon will play down the Yellowstone River oil spill, and soon the accident will be old news. That’s why it is important to realize that the issue of oil pipeline safety reaches far beyond Montana.