Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yellowstone River Oil Spill: 1,000 barrels pour into Montana river

When we think of oil spills, we first turn to the oceans - like the Gulf of Mexico's Deepwater Horizon or Alaska's Exxon Valdez spill. However, the transportation of oil is not limited to just the seas and spills can occur on land, impacting fresh water bodies of water in the process.

Late this past Friday, an oil pipeline that runs six feet beneath the Yellowstone River in Montana ruptured and before crews from Exxon Oil could manage to shut it off, as much as 1,000 barrels of oil spewed into the river, according to Exxon officials. Other oil company officials estimated the quantity of oil at about 42,000 gallons.

Due to record rains and a heavier than usual snowpack, the Yellowstone River is running fast and much deeper than normal, in fact it has caused some flooding as it runs from Montana to North Dakota, meeting up with the Missouri River. Moving at 5 to 7 mph, the oil plume was first reported to be 25 miles in length but later reports have suggested it has doubled that length.

Exxon response teams are using containment booms and absorbent sheets to clean up the spill as the oil makes it way into the river's marshland banks. No chemical dispersants have been suggested as of this writing - in reviewing several news reports, I did not find anyone venturing an opinion as to how a body of fresh water could handle oil broken down into micro-globules; whether there are organisms that can consume the oil as was always touted regarding ocean spills and dispersants.

The spill occurred near Billings and downstream 140 residents from the town of Laurel were evacuated for a brief time as strong, overpowering fumes and the fear of a possible explosion prompted city officials to take action.

The Associated Press reported,
"'The timing couldn't be worse,' said Steve Knecht, chief of operations for Montana Disaster and Emergency Services, who added that the plume was measured at 25 miles near Pompeys Pillar National Monument. 'With the Yellowstone running at flood stage and all the debris, it makes it dang tough to get out there to do anything.'"

Oil can have the same disastrous effect on animal and plant life as occurs in ocean spills. However, in this case, it is complicated by a fast-moving river at flood level, making containment more challenging. Residents will have to wait and see as to what becomes of the river and its ecosystem due to this spill, both in the short-term and long-term consequences.

Read about it from Associated Press/Yahoo.
Watch a video from Associated Press/The Washington Post.

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