Safety hike after Yellowstone burst

Exxon Mobil took twice as long as it said it did to fully seal a pipeline that spilled 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, according to federal documents.

07/11/2011


Exxon Mobil tISS Sourceook twice as long as it said it did to fully seal a pipeline that spilled 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River, according to federal documents.

Details about the company’s response to the Montana pipeline rupture came to light this week. The Department of Transportation (DOT) ordered the company to bury the duct deeper beneath the riverbed, where they buried it 5 to 8 ft underground to deliver 40,000 barrels of oil a day to a refinery in Billings.

Records show Exxon did not seal the pipeline until 56 minutes after the break occurred Friday near Laurel. That’s longer than the 30 minutes company officials said in a briefing Tuesday with federal officials and Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

An Exxon Mobil spokesman said the longer time span came from information provided to the agency by the company and the discrepancy might have come about because Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing was speaking without any notes in front of him when he addressed Schweitzer.

“Clearly our communication with the regulator (DOT) is the one that we’ve got precision on,” spokesman Alan Jeffers said.

It was not the first time the company offered clarification of its response and assessment of the spill. A day earlier, the company acknowledged under political pressure the leak’s impact could extend far beyond a 10-mi stretch of the river it initially said was the most affected area. The company had earlier downplayed government officials’ assertions damage spread over dozens of miles.

The waterway rose above flood stage Tuesday which raised fears that surging currents could push crude into undamaged areas and back channels vital to the river’s prized fishery. Conditions have also hampered efforts to find the cause of the break.

The river has been flowing too swiftly for crews to reach some oiled areas, and forecasters said mountain snowmelt was adding to high water levels. Officials said the surge may push oil into areas that have not suffered damage yet.

Transportation officials said Tuesday oil was as far downstream as 240 mi in Terry, Mont. The agency said Exxon Mobil provided that information, but company spokesman Alan Jeffers said he was not aware of any such sighting.

Exxon planned to test the river’s conditions with a jet boat, with eight more on standby if the launch is successful, Glass said.

Federal regulators have ordered Exxon to make safety improvements to the 20-yr-old pipeline. Among them was an order to re-bury the line to protect against external damage and assess risk where it crosses a waterway, which the company intended to comply with, Jeffers said.

The company also will have to submit a restart plan to the DOT before crude can again flow through the line.

Schweitzer also ordered a review of pipelines that cross major and minor rivers in the state. Officials will look at the pipes’ age, location of shut-off valves and whether they are similar to the ruptured pipe. He said the state has 88 such crossings.

Modern pipelines can be buried as much as 25 feet beneath bodies of water; Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip line was 5 to 8 ft below the bottom of the Yellowstone.

- Edited by Amanda McLeman, Plant Engineering, www.plantengineering.com



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