Residents Told “Don’t Drink the Water”
An estimated 50,000 gallons of oil have spilled into the Yellowstone River in Montana from a 12″ pipeline carrying Bakken Shale crude oil. Although the leak was discovered Saturday morning January 17th at 10 AM and the flow through the pipeline was reported to be cut off by 11 AM, the spill is massive and toxic.
Residents began reporting a “diesel-y” odor and taste to their drinking water, but were not told early this morning not to drink the water. Benzene, a potent carcinogen, is among the toxic substances confirmed in residents’ drinking water.
Authorities had been led to believe that because the pipeline, part of the “Bridger” pipeline system, is fourteen feet (also reported as eight feet) below the river, drinking water could not become contaminated. But those eight to fourteen feet did not protect the river, the ecosystem, or residents of local cities. From the Billings Gazette: Crews to Clean Up Oil Spilled into Yellowstone River.
From CNN: Up to 50,000 gallons of oil spilled in Yellowstone River; residents told not to drink water.
The massive oil spill happened when the 12-inch pipeline, which crosses the Yellowstone River, ruptured Saturday about 5 miles upstream from Glendive, Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality said. The Bridger Pipeline company shut down the pipeline.
Glendive City Council member Gerald Reichert was among the residents who noticed a disturbing odor in the drinking water.
“Suddenly at our house there was a definite smell. It was a diesel smell,” Reichert told the Grand Forks Herald.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced a state of emergency for Dawson and Richland counties.
Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines: One 16″ and one 18″ pipeline
While the investigation into the latest Bakken Shale crude oil disaster contaminating the Yellowstone River is still underway, resistance to the proposed Pilgrim oil Pipelines in New York State is increasing. So far, residents have spurred their town Boards to pass eight Resolutions Opposing Pilgrim Pipeline(s): Rosendale, New Paltz Town and Village, Rhinebeck, Rochester, Woodstock, Marbletown, and the City of Kingston, all in New York. New Jersey towns have passed 24 resolutions opposing Pilgrim Pipelines, so the combined total is 32.
The next two Town Board meetings which are explicitly considering voting on Resolutions Opposing Pilgrim Pipelines will be in Saugerties and Plattekill, both Wednesday, January 21st at 7 pm. Both meetings are open to the public:
Saugerties will consider the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipeline at their Board meeting on January 21st. A determined crowd will make a huge difference.
Plattekill will vote on the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipeline at their Board meeting on January 21st. A large, resolute showing will make all the difference.
Update posted January 22nd: Last night Plattekill passed the Resolution Opposing Pilgrim Pipeline.
Pilgrim has quickly developed a reputation for bullying and for dissembling. Pilgrim reps have been showing up to demand the right to survey land, in Newburgh, Tuxedo, Rosendale, Kingston, Saugerties and other towns. They often imply or outright claim the company has eminent domain, which is false: Pilgrim hasn’t even applied for a single permit in New York for construction and operation of their pipeline. But this doesn’t stop their representatives from threatening landowners with intimidating legal action.
Lessons From the Yellowstone Spill So Far
Oil Travels Far and Fast:
The Washington Post
reports in “Drinking water trucked into Montana city after oil spill
“: “An oil sheen has been seen near Sidney, almost 60 river miles downstream from Glendive, said Paul Peronard, the on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.”
Pipeline Inspections Do Not Lead to Problems Being Corrected: The same Washington Post story, and other sources, have affirmed that the breached Poplar pipeline was inspected in 2012. Although the inspection showed problems, the problems were obviously not fixed. With 135 inspectors for 2.5 million miles of pipeline in the U.S., inspections can’t possibly be expected to prevent oil spills such as this.
Response Time: Even with a one-hour response time, the Bridger Pipeline spilled massively into the Yellowstone River. At the 10/21/14 Kinnelon New Jersey meeting, Pilgrim executives conceded that a pipeline leak response could be expected “within 24 hours.” And by response, they mean simply flying somebody in to inspect a leak, not necessarily to fix or clean it up, let alone having an adequate evacuation or clean water plan for local residents.
“This response lapse is entirely possible in more unpopulated areas of the Pilgrim route, such as the roughly 1.6 mile stretch proposed by Pilgrim to run through Troy Meadows in the Whippany/Passaic Watershed,” said Anita Austenberg Shotwell, Trustee of Wildlife Preserves, Inc.
“Needless to say, a significant amount of damage can occur within 24 hours,” Shotwell added.
Late last year, Bridger Pipeline received a warning letter from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, alleging that the company didn’t follow proper reporting procedures when it inspected the Poplar pipeline in 2012. The agency didn’t impose a fine. The company hasn’t filed a response with PHMSA and didn’t immediately respond to questions about the warning.
Problems Persist Over Decades: This link provides a PHMSA letter to Bridger Pipeline Company LLC from February 2, 2007 referencing a 2005 inspection, and cites violation data on the Poplar Pipeline. It also references repairs from 2004 and 2005. It cites interesting problems with the pipeline.
And the Helena Independent Record
from 1965 references an oil spill into the Yellowstone River from a 12″ pipeline constructed in 1955.
Newer Pipelines Spill Too: While our sources indicate that Poplar was an older pipeline, possibly built in 1955, newer pipelines are also spilling. The claim made by Pilgrim Pipelines representative Giorgio DeRosa in Plattekill, New York that because Pilgrim would be newer, it would probably not spill “for a hundred years,” is absurd. Here are just a few examples of newer pipelines spilling:
Mariner East Pipeline (MarcellusDrilling.com: Sunoco Logistics pipeline, 2014 drilling mud spill)
Silvertip Pipeline (Wall Street Journal: ExxonMobil pipeline, 2013)
Tar Sands Bitumen Mixed with Bakken Shale Crude in Pilgrim Pipelines? Worst of the Worst
As proposed, the two Pilgrim Pipelines, one 18″ and one 16″, would run side by side from Albany down through the Hudson Valley to Linden, New Jersey. The pipelines, if allowed, would carry oil south and “refined products” north: jet fuel, diesel, gasoline, other.
For years we’ve been told the pipeline would carry Bakken Shale crude oil south. But two weeks ago, powerful Albany lobbyist Giorgio DeRosa told a packed roomful of residents in Plattekill, New York, that “only 15 – 20% of the oil would be from the Bakken Shale… the rest will be mostly from Canada.”
In other words: Tar Sands oil, called bitumen because it is so thick it’s not even accurate to call it “crude oil.”
The industry may be thinking: hey, Bakken Shale oil is terribly flammable; if you mix it with the asphalt-like Tar Sands bitumen, it may be less so. And the tar sands bitumen must be diluted in order to flow through a pipeline, so why not dilute it with Bakken Shale crude? For them, it looks like a potentially profitable win-win. For everyone else, it’s the worst of the worst.
Risky heavy oils and cleanup
Popiel said there are a network of pipelines that carry two types of heavy oil in Canada and the United States.
The first is oil-sands product, which is too thick to flow through pipelines. It’s made thinner with dilutants. The diluted oil can be flammable once spilled in water.
The other is Bakken crude, a lighter oil, that is more flammable and volatile. It’s the same oil that caused the Lac-Mégantic train disaster, which killed 47 people and destroyed the downtown of the small Quebec town in 2013.
The Mayflower, Arkansas spill, the Kalamazoo River spill and, unfortunately, so many more, like the Yellowstone, all have their own lessons. The question is: when will we learn? Keep the oil in the shale. Keep the oil in the sands. Fight like hell to protect our climate. History is made by those who show up, so show up in Plattekill, in Saugerties, and at the very least, sign this petition already: Stop the Pilgrim Pipeline
In honor of Yellowstone River and the people who can’t drink their water, help use get to 1000 signatures in the next 24 hours.
Peter Dolan, Cindy Kane, Margo Pellegrino, Gale Pisha, Jessica Romeo, Anita Shotwell and Joe Testa contributed research to this article.