A pipeline breach has resulted in disaster for one of North America’s premier trout-fishing streams, and possibly contaminated drinking water for many nearby residents as well. According to CNN, the spill occurred early last Saturday when the pipeline burst near the Yellowstone River five miles upstream of Glendive, Montana. The Bridger Pipeline company, which quickly acted to shut down the pipeline, initially reported 300 to 1,200 barrels of oil spilled, but state officials later estimated the amount to be over 50,000 gallons.
“Our primary concern is to minimize the environmental impact of the release and keep our responders safe as we clean up from this unfortunate incident,” said Tad True, vice president of Bridger, in a press release.
The EPA and Montana Department of Environmental Quality have responded to the leakage and reported that although the oil did get into the water, the spill may be mitigated due to the fact that a section of the river was still frozen.
“We think it was caught pretty quick, and it was shut down,” Dave Parker, a spokesman for Governor Steve Bullock, told the Associated Press. “The governor is committed to making sure the river is cleaned up.”
New concerns were raised on Tuesday after officials detected elevated levels of benzene in a water treatment plant downstream from the spill. Benzene is a carcinogen and according to experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, may cause cancer through long-term consumption. Authorities have advised local residents to refrain from drinking tap water and in areas closer to the spill, such as Glendale, officials have already started passing out bottled water.
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has also joined the emergency response team. According to KBZK, officials are investigating the effects of the spill on endangered species, such as the vulnerable pallid sturgeon and paddlefish. It is not yet known how the oil will impact local fish populations, but crews are working hard to prevent the oil from reaching the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers, a vital spawning ground for many fish species. The Yellowstone River is famed for its excellent fishing opportunities and is classed as a blue ribbon stream due to its abundance of bass, walleye, trout, and catfish.
Last weekend’s spill was not the first for the Yellowstone River in recent years. In 2011, an ExxonMobil pipeline near Billings ruptured, sending an estimated 63,000 gallons of oil into the river. The company said it spent over $135 million in cleanup costs, not including what it could face in government fines due to environmental damages.
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