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  • Allison Stalker

EPA’s Response to the Yellowstone River Spill

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

A 12-inch pipeline owned by ExxonMobil Pipeline Company ruptured on July 1, 2011. The pipeline was located under the Yellowstone River, about 20 miles upstream of Billings, Montana. The company claims that over 1,000 barrels of oil were released into the river before the pipeline was closed. This equates to 42,000 gallons of oil that entered the river. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the leading response to the cleanup of the spill, along with the State of Montana and other federal agencies. At this point, the EPA has stated that most of the oil is within 30 miles of the spill, with an additional spotting about 80 miles downstream.

The primary concern of the EPA is to protect the public’s health and also the environment. In total, there are 680 responders including responders from the EPA, the U.S. Coast Guard, and ExxonMobil. The clean up the spill, about 43,000 feet of absorbent booms and 260,000 absorbent mats are being deployed along river banks. The EPA is then properly disposing of the collected waste, with hazardous waste being disposed of in a certified landfill in Clive, Utah and non-hazardous waste being disposed of in an approved landfill in Bennett, Colorado.

Shoreline Cleanup & Assessment Technique (SCAT) teams are actively assessing and cleaning the most heavily affected areas. Water, soil, and sediment samples are also being collected to analyze for water quality along and to help determine where oil was transported and what compounds are present. Currently, the EPA has stated that there are no petroleum hydrocarbons above drinking water standards in the region. However, testing is not complete on domestic wells and continues on the three affected water systems, including Billings, Lakewood and Laurel.

Many residents have reported strong odors in the region of the spill. These odors are likely volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. The EPA has conducted air monitoring for the stated VOCs as well as hydrogen sulfide. The results of this monitoring have continued to show no detections in the ambient air. Naphthalene and methylene chloride were detected in levels slightly above human health risk levels in the area along the river. The EPA states that the naphthalene concentrations are similar to those before the spill and that the methylene chloride is not associated with the spill.

The EPA has also reported that 10 Pallid Sturgeons, birds that use the river for nesting, were found to be visibly oiled. In addition, one garner snake and one western toad were also found to be oiled, captured, cleaned, and released. Click here to find out additional information on the spill.



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