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Yellowstone oil spill has spread farther, Exxon Mobil says

The oil has spread 15 miles beyond the leak, the firm says. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer says all oil and gas pipelines that cross state waterways will be reviewed and those that do not meet standards will be closed.

July 05, 2011|Times Staff and Wire Reports
  • An Exxon Mobil contractor mops up oil along the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont.
An Exxon Mobil contractor mops up oil along the Yellowstone River near Laurel,… (Matthew Brown, Associated…)

LAUREL, Mont. — — Oil from a Yellowstone River pipeline has spread at least 15 miles beyond the initial leak, Exxon Mobil acknowledged Monday — five miles farther than the company estimated a day earlier.

Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing pledged to do "whatever is necessary" to find and mop up spilled crude from the 12-inch pipeline that broke at the bottom of the river near Billings over the weekend.

As cleanup of up to 42,000 of gallons of oil intensified, Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer said authorities would review the safety of all oil and gas pipelines that cross state waterways and close those that do not meet standards.

"We'll make the decision over the next couple of days whether to shut off some pipelines," Schweitzer told Reuters in a telephone interview. "The last thing I want is for another pipeline to break."

The cause of the spill has not been determined, but officials have speculated that surging waters may have scoured the river bottom and exposed the pipeline to debris that could have damaged the pipe.

Pruessing said the company was using aircraft to assess damage, but the flooding river prevents crews from venturing out in boats or walking the banks in some areas for a closer look. That will happen when the river recedes, he said.

"The river is well over its banks, very turbulent," he said at a news conference along the Yellowstone near Laurel. "I've never seen the river like this in my life."

The spill's effects on wildlife were unclear Monday, but the Audubon Society and experts from International Bird Rescue would be on hand to help, Pruessing said.

Exxon Mobil is continuing to test air and water for safety, he said, and will make the results available to the public.

After the news conference, Pruessing was confronted by an angry goat farmer and environmental activist who said his wife had been sickened by oil fumes and had to be taken to the emergency room.

"I need to know what we've been exposed to. People are sick now," said Mike Scott, who also works for the Sierra Club. Scott said his wife, Alexis Bonogofsky, was diagnosed Monday with acute hydrocarbon exposure after experiencing dizziness, nausea and trouble breathing.

Bonogofsky, who works for the National Wildlife Federation, had gone to the riverbank with her camera to photograph oil on their property south of Billings.

The Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river in the continental United States, is renowned for its trout fishing and bird life. The leak happened more than 100 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park.

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