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Glendive Water System Still Offline, Mitigation Efforts Continue

Bridger Pipeline LLC

It doesn’t look like Glendive’s tap water will be declared safe to drink today.

Glendive residents were told not to drink or cook with town water on Sunday, following Saturday’s oil spill into the Yellowstone River six miles upstream.

Glendive draws its drinking water from the Yellowstone, and benzene, a chemical known to cause cancer, was detected in tap water on Sunday.

This morning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s on-site clean up coordinator Paul Peronard said he was hopeful that efforts to de-contaminate the plant, and alter its water intake in the river would be finished by end of day today. That now looks unlikely, he says.

Peronard says engineers have altered the pipe that pulls water from the river into Glendive’s water treatment plant, so that it’s less likely to pull in oil-related contaminants, and that activated carbon has been added to the water plant’s filtering system.

“We’ve also added on a contingency, basically an air stripping system,” Peronard said, “you basically bubble air through the water, and the volatile compounds off-gas. So, we’ve put in a couple steps, basically designed with the idea that it’s gonna be contaminated water. We hope we’re wrong, but we think we the system we put on line will handle that contamination.”

Peronard says that preliminary tests at the water treatment plant show that the water, “ looks good,” but that the system of pipes that distributes that water to town residents had not yet been flushed out. He says that could be completed as early as tonight or tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, People working on getting the oil out of the river say they’re making progress, but think they’ll never be able to recover most of it.

Bill Salvin is a spokesman for Bridger Pipeline, the Wyoming-based company whose pipeline running beneath the Yellowstone west of Glendive burst Saturday, spilling an estimated 40,000 gallons of crude oil into the river.

“This is a very challenging oil spill response,” Salvin says, “given the time of the year and the winter conditions and the ice on the river.”

Salvin and officials with the EPA say that, as a rule of thumb, only about 50 percent of oil spilled into waterways is ever recovered.

“Given that we’re not in a typical oil spill, and we have some challenging conditions, we expect that number to be lower,” Salvin said.

As of this morning, only an estimated 15 barrels of oil had been pulled out of the river, that’s out of an estimated 1,000 barrels total spilled.

There has been some good news from the spill site.

“We actually recovered 240 barrels of oil that was hung up in the pipeline,” Peronard said. “We managed to push it out of the pipeline, past the break, and keep it out of the river and recover it.”

Peronard says it’s hard to tell exactly where all the spilled oil is, given that much of the river is frozen over. Crews are punching holes and cutting slots in the ice, both to try to pull it out of the river, and to assess where most of it is.

Based on that work, Peronard says he thinks most of the spilled oil is still upstream of Glendive, which is about six miles from where the pipeline broke. Again, Peronard says he thinks alterations to Glendive’s water intake and treatment plant will allow the town to distribute safe drinking water again, even if some oil remains in the river upstream.

Hear more on the cleanup efforts from the EPA's Paul Peronard.

Eric Whitney is NPR's Mountain West/Great Plains Bureau Chief, and was the former news director for Montana Public Radio.
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