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Montana Takes Over Glendive Oil Spill Cleanup
Oil spill response workers collect oil on the Yellowstone River on January 17, near Glendive, MT.

Two and a half months after a pipeline ruptured, spilling 30,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River at Glendive, The federal Environmental Protection Agency has handed over the management of the cleanup effort. JeniFlatow with Montana DEQ says federal law allows the EPA to take charge of “emergency responses," and the Montana spill no longer qualifies.

“The EPA has conferred with the state and determined that their jurisdiction is finished," said Flatow. "Now, the DEQ and the Bridger Pipeline will remain on the unified command continue with the cleanup." 

Of the 30,000 gallons that spilled into the river, less than 10% has been recovered. Flatow says the rest has been finely dispersed by Yellowstone River sediment, evaporated, or even digested by microorganisms in the River. What remains in many places is a thin layer that is difficult to recover, especially at this time of the year.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of sheen, light sheen, which is kind of the rainbow color that you see on the water," said Flatow. "But as it breaks down it becomes more of a silvery sheen, and that’s just not recoverable. They are finding a little bit of heavier oil staining that they’ll go and try to recover as things dry out “

Bill Salvin, a spokesman for Bridger Pipeline, says about a dozen people from the company remain on the scene, documenting any signs of contamination, but cleanup efforts will be limited as winter transitions into spring.

“Where we can recover it, we certainly will," said Salvin. "But the goal is to minimize the environmental impact and unfortunately with the oil in this condition it actually causes more environmental damage for us to get in and tramp around on the shoreline to recover very small bits of oil and at this point it's better to simply let that oil weather.”

Meanwhile, Bridger has already begun filing for permits to replace the pipeline under the Yellowstone. Salvin says thanks to new horizontal drilling technology, the same technology that’s being used in places like the Bakken to recover oil reserves, the new pipeline can be placed deeper underground, causing less disturbance to the environment, than when the original pipeline was placed nearly forty years ago.

“When this line was put in in 1967, they basically dug a trench into the river bottom and buried the pipeline eight feet below the river bottom," Salvin explains. "That causes a tremendous impact on the environment. Now we drill in one place and put a small hole that allows the line to go through and we can run that pipeline as far as we need to so it’s a much reduced environmental footprint.”

Meanwhile, Salvin says there is no timeline for completing the cleanup. Rather, the job will be done when the parties involved, the pipeline company and the state, agree that the cleanup has succeeded and damage from the spill has been minimized. 

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