Oil shipments to resume in pipeline that broke beneath Montana river; cleanup still on hold

BILLINGS, Mont. – A Wyoming company is preparing to resume oil shipments through a pipeline that broke and spewed 30,000 gallons of crude into Montana’s Yellowstone River, even as most of the spilled oil remains unrecovered.

Cleanup is on hold near the small city of Glendive, where the water supply for 6,000 residents was temporarily contaminated.

Bridger Pipeline LLC company was to begin restarting a 50-mile section of the line south of the spill site Wednesday, spokesman Bill Salvin said.

Workers also have been setting up equipment to drill a new passage for the line deeper beneath the river, under an order from federal regulators.

The damaged section was installed in 1967 in a shallow trench across the river bottom. It became exposed over the past several years — through flooding, scouring of the river bottom by ice or some other force — and broke open in January.

After the water was contaminated in Glendive, filters were installed to screen out any petroleum products. No problems with the water have been reported since the initial days after the accident.

It was the second significant oil pipeline spill into the Yellowstone in less than four years, prompting Montana officials including Gov. Steve Bullock and U.S. Sen. Jon Tester to call for more stringent federal oversight of the nation’s aging pipeline network.

Ice on the Yellowstone has hampered cleanup efforts, and only about 10 per cent of the oil that was released into the river has been recovered. Two workers have been monitoring the river downstream of the spill for evidence of oil, Salvin said, but it’s been several weeks since significant cleanup work has occurred.

An application from Bridger Pipeline for a state license for the drilling work is pending with the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said agency spokesman John Grassy.

The company has asked to install the replacement section 40 feet beneath the river bed, Grassy said

A final decision on the license was expected soon.

A second pending application from Bridger would allow the company to remove the damaged section of pipeline.

The cause of the spill remains under investigation by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

The agency in January ordered the line to be replaced where it crosses beneath the Yellowstone before it could be restarted. Identical improvements were ordered for a second waterway crossed by Bridger’s line — the Poplar River in northeast Montana.