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July 7 Update on Federal Response to Silvertip Pipeline Oil Spill Near Billings, Montana

Release Date: 07/08/2011
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At approximately 11:00 PM on Friday, July 1 a break occurred in a 12-inch pipeline owned by ExxonMobil that resulted in a spill of crude oil into the Yellowstone River approximately 20 miles upstream of Billings, Montana. According to the company’s estimates, 1,000 barrels of oil entered the river, which is in flood stage, before the pipeline was cut off.

EPA’s primary concern is protection of human health and the environment, and the agency is conducting both air and water sampling to determine what impacts the spill may have on air or water quality, while also ensuring the responsible party is held accountable. 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, MT, and Billings, MT, 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 and will publish these results as soon as they are available.

Water sampling conducted by EPA between Laurel and Miles City, MT indicates there are no petroleum hydrocarbons above drinking water levels standards in that region. Preliminary results indicate that the Yellowstone River poses no threat to agriculture use. Prior sampling and ongoing monitoring indicate that the municipal drinking water supplies in these areas remain safe. Fully validated results will be on the EPA website within the next few days. EPA will be coordinating domestic well water testing and conducting indoor air sampling at residences impacted by the spill.

EPA is also directing and overseeing cleanup activities since arriving at the site. As of Thursday, July 7, approximately 544 personnel are involved in the incident response and over 360 are in the field conducting cleanup operations and recovering oil. Personnel continue to walk the shores and deploy absorbent boom along the river banks to absorb oil that has collected in slow water areas along the shoreline. 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 sighted beyond this point during ground and aerial reconnaissance to Miles City.

On July 6, EPA issued an order to ExxonMobil, pursuant to the Clean Water Act, directing the company to take a number of clean-up and restoration activities as a result of an oil spill into the Yellowstone River. EPA will continue in its role in directing and overseeing the cleanup and restoration of the river and ensuring the protection of human health and the environment.

EPA is coordinating its response actions with the Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and state and local agencies and will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure ExxonMobil, as the responsible party, addresses any and all potential impacts of this spill. In addition, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is responsible for determining the cause of the pipeline failure and has been onsite since Saturday.

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