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Region 8

Questions And Answers

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Revised July 15, 2011

On this page:

What happened?
How far has the oil spread downstream?
What action is being taken to contain and cleanup the oil spill?
What kind of waste is produced in the response?
How will the oily waste be disposed of?

Health and Environmental Impacts:

Have there been impacts to wildlife?
What is Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT)?
How can residents protect themselves from oil-contaminated water?

Water:
Is drinking water affected?
What about private domestic wells near the river?
Why is EPA sampling and monitoring the water in the river?

Air:
How has the oil spill affected the air?
Is the odor dangerous?
Is EPA monitoring the outdoor air along the Yellowstone River?

Where can I get more information?


 

What happened?
At approximately 11 p.m. Friday, July 1, 2011, a break occurred in a 12-inch pipeline under the Yellowstone River 20 miles upstream from Billings, Montana. The ruptured pipeline is owned by ExxonMobil Pipeline Company. According to the company, an estimated 1,000 barrels of oil entered the river before the pipeline was closed. The company has shut down the pipeline.

How far has the oil spread downstream?
An aerial assessment by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel identified oil deposited along the river bank, and pools of oil in backwaters and eddies along the north and south banks of the river. While most of the oil has been encountered within 30 miles of the spill, a pocket of emulsified oil has been spotted approximately 80 miles downstream. No evidence of visible oil staining or emulsified oil has been sighted beyond this point during ground and aerial reconnaissance to Miles City. We continue to conduct aerial reconnaissance on actionable reports of oil.

What action is being taken to contain and cleanup the oil spill?
EPA is leading the response in close coordination with the state of Montana and other federal agencies. In that role, we are directing and overseeing cleanup activities. EPA has mobilized 50 emergency responders in addition to U. S. Coast Guard personnel from the Pacific Strike Team. In all, there are more than 580 responders including those from ExxonMobil, the company responsible for the spill, on-site to assist in cleanup and minimize any potential health and environmental impacts from the spill.

The river has been divided into 4 sections for the purposes of responding to the spill. The first two sections encompass the 20 miles of river immediately downstream of the spill. EPA response crews and ExxonMobil crews overseen by EPA and the US Coast Guard are actively working on all areas of recoverable oil identified by daily reconnaissance flights in the river and in backwaters. Reconnaissance has gone as far as Glendive, Montana.

Personnel are walking the shores and deploying absorbent booms and mats along the river banks to absorb oil that has pooled in slow water areas along the shore line. Almost 33,000 feet of boom and approximately 160,000 absorbent pads have been deployed to clean up oil adjacent to the river. The absorbent material is then collected and properly disposed of. EPA is collecting water samples along the river for water quality analysis and monitoring air quality. Work has begun on removal of contaminated soil and vegetation and is overseen by State and US Fish and Wildlife personnel.

EPA is coordinating its response actions with the Department of Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and state and local agencies and will take all steps necessary to ensure that ExxonMobil, as the responsible party, addresses any and all potential impacts of this spill.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration will determine the cause of the pipeline failure.

What kind of waste is produced in the response?

The waste consists primarily of oil-soaked booms, mats, response clothing and soil vegetation. 

How will the oily waste be disposed of?

An approved disposal plan is in place. Hazardous waste is being disposed of in a certified landfill in Clive, Utah. Non-hazardous waste is being disposed of in an approved landfill in Bennett, Colorado.

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Health and Environmental Impacts

Have there been impacts to wildlife?
This stretch of the Yellowstone River is home to the Pallid Sturgeon, an endangered fish species. Its banks also serve as nesting areas for migratory birds. Approximately 10 birds were confirmed to have been visibly oiled. The International Bird Rescue (bird-rescue.org) continues to monitor the birds. There was one gardener snake and one western toad captured, cleaned and released. If residents see birds covered with oil, they should call the Wildlife Hotline at 800-259-0596.

What is Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT)?

Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Technique (SCAT) is a process of inspecting impacted areas for the degree of oiling and the types of soil and vegetation that need to be cleaned up in a particular area. SCAT reports are developed to drive cleanup activities in the field. Once cleanup crews have completed their activities in previously assessed areas, a second SCAT team is sent to validate the effectiveness and thorourghness of the cleanup process.

How can residents protect themselves from oil-contaminated water?
Here are some tips residents can follow to protect themselves from exposure to the spilled oil:

  • Pay attention to local authorities and avoid areas affected by the oil spill. The oil could cause health problems, including skin and eye irritation or breathing problems.
  • Keep your pets from entering oil-contaminated areas.
  • If you get contaminated water on your skin, wash it off immediately with soap and water or a hand cleanser meant to remove oils and grease.
  • If you accidentally drink some oil-contaminated water and symptoms such as nausea, vomiting or dizziness occur, seek medical attention.

Water:

Is drinking water affected?
Downstream water systems were notified soon after the spill and closed their intakes. Results of water samples indicate there are no detections of oil-related contaminants above drinking water standards. Water sample locations can be found at: www.epa.gov/geospatial/ermaps/silvertip/. Additionally, EPA is conducting domestic well water testing. EPA continues to work with municipal drinking water systems to ensure that water quality near their intakes poses no threat to the water systems and drinking water supplies.

What about private domestic wells near the river?
We are currently testing domestic well water.  The results of the sampling will be provided to the property owner as soon as the data is validated.

Why is EPA sampling and monitoring the water in the river?

EPA is sampling to learn whether potentially harmful chemicals are present in the water as result of the spill and to determine the level or risk posed to people who enter the water and wildlife. There are three water systems in the affected area: Billings, Lakewood, and Laurel. Laboratory testing by EPA and the drinking water utilities continues to confirm that there are no petroleum hydrocarbons above drinking water maximum contaminant levels (MCLs). Go to water data.

Air:

How has the oil spill affected the air?
Some people have noticed a strong odor near the area where the pipeline ruptured and along the river and backwaters impacted by the spill. These odors are decreasing as spilled oil is recovered. If you smell a "gas-station-like" odor, you may be smelling volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. The VOCs in oil are benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. EPA is conducting air monitoring for VOCs and hydrogen sulfide in the impacted areas. No detectable levels of these compounds were seen during our monitoring. We have deployed additional air samplers at specific locations to ensure the continued protection of the community and emergency responders. Additionally, EPA is screening air at residences impacted by the spill to confirm that odors do not pose a health threat.

Is the odor dangerous?
It is important to understand that people are able to smell some VOCs and other oil-related chemicals at levels much lower than would cause long-term health problems. Some of the chemicals that cause odors may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea or vomiting. If you are sensitive to these chemicals, stay indoors. If possible, close windows and doors, turn your air conditioner on and set it to a recirculation mode. If you have severe nausea or other medical issues, please see your health care provider as soon as possible. EPA is working closely with the local Unified Health Command (UHC) of Yellowstone County (riverstonehealth.org) regarding reports of health impacts. UHC issued a news release pertaining to the oil spill and health impacts on July 8, 2011.

Is EPA monitoring the outdoor air along the Yellowstone River?
Air monitoring using real-time instruments that look for volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide continue to show no detections in ambient air along the Yellowstone River. Additionally, air sampling for benzene has been conducted between Laurel and Billings, Montana, with no detections. We have collected six 24-hour air samples at locations along the Yellowstone River to ensure the continued protection of the community and emergency responders. Go to air data.

 

Where can I get more information?
EPA, other federal responders and the company update local government and the media regularly. Stay tuned to your local radio and television stations and newspaper web pages for the most up to date information on the response.

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Contact Information

Public questions: 303‑312‑6015, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. MT weekdays.

Exxon Claims Questions:
888‑382‑0043

ExxonMobil Community Outreach:
2345 King Avenue West, Suite B
Billings, MT 59102
406-969-1750
Monday - Friday 10 a.m. - 2 p.m.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Hotline:
800-259-0596

National Information

Oil Cleanup Home

To report a spill: National Response Center (NRC), 800‑424-8802

About Region 8

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