In May, Exxon Mobil shut down the Silvertip pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River due to fears of the river bottom scouring out and damaging the line. Flows in May reached nearly 60,000 cubic feet per second. On Friday, as flows in the Yellowstone River at Billings hit a peak of nearly 67,000 cfs, Exxon saw no reason to shut down the pipeline and lose all that revenue since they had survived the May flows. Late Friday, the pipeline ruptured pouring 42,000 gallons of oil into the river right on the peak flow for the year.
Oil will now ride that peak all the way to the Missouri River and beyond dropping black gooey sludge along river banks across Montana. Why was the pipeline shut down for fear of a breach at lower flows? Somebody should have told the engineers that rivers scour during high flows. That’s what rivers do. That’s their business. When the line was inspected in 2009, the pipe was estimated to be 5-8 feet beneath the river bed. That’s not a lot of depth for a river the size of the Yellowstone, especially when it hits this kind of flow. If you want to follow the oil slick down the Yellowstone you can pretty much follow that peak to find out where the oil is currently. By last night, officials found the slick near Hysham. The peak reached Forsyth this morning and it is likely that it brought the front of the slick with it.
ExxonMobil is coordinating the spill response. As of last night, the Exxon Global Response Team from Houston was still on it’s way to the site as well as an expected 100 contract workers. The oil giant had two teams working on cleanup between Laurel and Lockwood a distance of about 20 miles below the spill. Meanwhile, the head of the slick is now about 100 miles downstream from the cleanup crews and moving downstream somewhere around for Forsyth.
Noelle Pinkerton, Treasure County director of disaster and emergency services, has been notifying ditch owners, farmers and other landowners with riverfront access of the oil spill and that it’s moving their way.
Pinkerton first heard about the oil spill Saturday morning from a town council member who had read news of the disaster. Shortly thereafter, a dispatcher with the county sheriff called to relay the news.
But like Custer County, she said no word of the spill came to them through official state channels
So, if you have any friends in Miles City, you might want to give them a call and let them know that a disaster is headed their way. It seems that ExxonMobil and the state of Montana are too busy taking away sparklers from kids to bother about warning residents just yet.
As long as we use oil we will have spills. It’s the nature of the beast. We can’t stop faulty equipment, natural disasters or stupid people from causing oil spills. But, we can reduce the risk, be prepared when they inevitably happen and respond in kind. It seems that our oil companies and our government prepare for oil spill disasters mainly by praying that they won’t happen.