Montana, Federal Agency Seek Damages for Yellowstone Oil Spill

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BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The state of Montana and U.S. Department of Interior have notified a Wyoming company that they’ll seek compensation for damages caused by more than 30,000 gallons of oil that spilled into the Yellowstone River from a broken pipeline.

More than 90 percent of the crude was never recovered following the Bridger Pipeline Company accident in January 2015 near Glendive. The river was frozen when the break occurred and the spill temporarily contaminated water supplies for 6,000 people living downstream of the break.

Montana Attorney General Tim Fox said it’s too early to say how much money will be sought from Bridger. However, he said the company has so far been cooperative as state and federal officials embark on a lengthy assessment of the damages.

Exxon Mobil recently agreed to pay $12 million in environmental damages for a 2011 spill into the Yellowstone near Laurel, Montana.

In both cases, the broken lines had been installed just a few feet beneath the riverbed. The companies subsequently spent millions of dollars re-installing the lines more deeply beneath the Yellowstone and other river crossings in the state.

“You can’t quantify the damage to our wildlife in a situation like this. That resource is precious and, I would argue, irreplaceable,” Fox said. “We need to do better and I think we’re headed in that direction and learning.

Federal regulators have rejected proposals to impose an industry-wide mandate for companies to bury pipelines more deeply. However, many pipeline operators in the region have taken such actions voluntarily in the years since the Exxon spill.

Earlier this month, the state land board approved a proposal by the Yellowstone Pipeline Company to re-bury two sections of 10-inch oil pipeline that cross beneath the Clark Fork River at locations in Granite and Missoula counties.

The crossings were originally installed in 1954 and 2005 and had become potential safety risks.

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