Saturday, June 13, 2015

ExxonMobil gets wrist slap for 2011 Yellowstone leak

The US Department of Transportation is swatting ExxonMobil with a million dollar penalty after the Environmental Protection Agency released an overview of cleanup efforts in the aftermath of the 2011 breach of the Silvertip pipeline that spilled 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River upstream of Billings, Montana.
EPA continues to oversee the response to the ExxonMobil Silvertip Pipeline Spill on the Yellowstone River. Sampling data results will be made available as quickly as validated results permit. A decision was made by Unified Command early on to ensure that all the response data associated with this incident be consistent with Montana DEQ methodology and standards. As such, we are using only certified labs in Montana and those businesses have been working diligently to process samples and data packages. When data becomes available it will immediately be posted to the maps section of the EPA website.
Regulators said the company failed to adequately heed warnings that the line could rupture and there were no safeguards to minimize the spill when the line broke.

The US Army Corps of Engineers had been tinkering with the upper Yellowstone River as the Billings Gazette's Clair Johnson tells us:
The plan, called the Upper Yellowstone River Special Area Management Plan, directs the Corps to evaluate how a project may affect the entire watershed, flood plain and valley before approving a permit. “The road map is here,” said Todd Tillinger, program manager for Corps’ Montana Regulatory Branch in Helena. “Our goal is to keep it (the river) as intact as we can.” The Corps study began after two consecutive years of record flooding in the late 1990s triggered a rash of bank stabilization permits to prevent further erosion or property damage.
Talli Nauman at Native Sun News told us that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is the Department of Transportation's regulatory body:
“We will hold pipeline operators accountable when they put the public or the environment at risk,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Pipeline operators must be vigilant about following safety regulations to prevent accidents and keep our communities safe without disrupting energy supplies.”
Reuters brings this:
After inspecting the pipeline in July 2009, PHMSA issued a warning letter to Exxon a year later about oil leaking from some of the valves on the pipeline. Exxon resolved all the concerns raised by the agency and no fine was issued.
The Button Valley Bugle has superlative coverage of the Silvertip Pipeline saga:
You would think that a company with record profits of $11 billion in the first quarter of this year and $45 billion in 2008, a company that can afford to pay its CEO $29 million last year, could afford to put a few million into its aging infrastructure. ExxonMobil Corporation has a problem keeping it’s products out of our waterways.
From a post in Switchboard, the blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Anthony Swift says:
An accident that should have been prevented is not really an accident. Tragedies like the Yellowstone River spill can be prevented by strong safety regulations and the proactive action of regulators. Today we are in desperate need of both.
Pipeline accidents involving crude oil grew 87 percent from 2009 to 2014.
At least 73 incidents occurred last year, including the Bridger Pipeline LLC failure at Poplar. Almost half the incidents in the past five years involved pipelines installed more than 40 years ago. [Rob Chaney, The Missoulian]
Water crossings where ice floes bash moorings and flooding causes scouring of fill from river bottoms are particularly vulnerable to failures.
Eight months before the spill, the Army Corps of Engineers seemed the most likely agency to help repair the eroding riverbanks. "Their response back to us was that should there be an imminent danger then (they) would respond," said Olson, "unfortunately, when you have a flood, imminent danger signs are too late." [Laurel Voiced Pipeline Concerns Well Before Spill]
The corps have been very quiet about a breach under its purview. Wouldn't Exxon have had to consult with the corps before restarting the pipeline and how could they not have known the potential for scouring on a flooding Yellowstone River?

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