Oil Spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River, Lessons for Nebraska

Jane Kleeb
News

Update 7/5, 5:30pm: Folks on the ground have been in the ER to be treated for hydrocarbon exposure.  The oil spill in Montana should make Rep. Terry, who sponsored a bill to rush the decision on the TransCanada Keystone XL pipeline, pull his bill now.  Otherwise, it is clear that Rep. Terry is fine with putting at risk the Ogallala and the $15 billion ag industry.

Update, 7/4, 2:30pm: We learned the pipeline spilt at least 42,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone river. This pipeline was a 12-inch crude oil pipeline carrying about 180,000 barrels of oil each day to refineries.

Imagine the damage the TransCanada pipeline can do–it is a 36-inch tarsands pipeline that would carry 500,000 barrels of tarsands oil every day. Triple the dimension of a traditional oil pipeline, carrying almost triple the amount of oil and the oil is tarsands which is 16 times more corrosive than crude oil.

NPR covered the story today and the remarks by Exxon officials are status quo pr-spin by oil companies–they are claiming no damage to wildlife has happened.  In the words of Montana Gov. Schweitzer, that is just silly.  The TransCanada Keystone XL would also cross the Yellowstone river.

Original post:

A tragic oil spill is happening right now in Montana.  An Exxon Mobile oil pipeline ruptured in the Yellowstone River resulting in gallons of oil and chemicals on families’ farms and homes. Wildlife is being rescued and oil booms were laid trying to soak up as much oil as possible. It is still unclear how much oil was spilt, however we do know at least 150 miles of the Yellowstone River and families’ homes and farms have been spoiled by oil.

Frustrated by the spill and want to take local action? Consider joining us on Aug. 5th to circle Gov. Heineman’s mansion for an I Stand with Randy event.

 (for more images go to the Montana Billings Gazette)

Some already are saying in the comment area of local Montana newspapers, “well, we drive cars, we need oil, mistakes will happen.”  The issue is not that we need and use oil.  The issue is safety and transparency. 

Montana, with some oil pipeline state regulations in place, still had problems with emergency response once the oil was discovered.  

Now imagine when a spill happens in Nebraska.  We have NO state regulations and we are relying on TransCanada’s “emergency response plan” which has been shown to be inadequate, read the full report here.  

In fact, TransCanada acknowledges it will take at least SIX HOURS for their emergency responders to be on location in Nebraska. Local emergency responders in Nebraska have also acknowledged they have no idea what the oil make up is, which means they do not know how to best treat a fire or spill when one happens.

What state agencies will be called?  

When State Senators Dubas and Sullivan requested information from state agencies last year, they all essentially said “not it.”  They said that not because they do not want to be involved, but because we have no regulations in place at the state level to map out the jurisdiction, the responsibility of the various state agencies that should be involved.

In Montana, the Disaster and Emergency Services and the Department of Environmental Quality are involved.  Yet, if TransCanada’s first Keystone tarsands pipeline were to rupture today, what is the plan, who do residents call, who gets notified when, where do citizens go to find out information on the spill, what happens if TransCanada refuses to pay citing some loophole in a contract?

We learned from the tarsands oil spill in Michigan last summer, that residents and landowners can not trust the word of oil companies.  Families will have to go to court in Michigan to try and get the money they are owed for the continuing damage that happened as a result of that oil and chemical spill.  We should not be putting our local county and state government in that much of a risk position.  Our families, landowners, farmers and ranchers should not have to be taking out 2 million dollar liability insurance plans in order to protect themselves from, often an unwanted, pipeline.

We urge Governor Heineman to listen to what 5 bold, bi-partisan State Senators (Haar, Coash, Dubas, Fulton, Sullivan) outlined as to what needs to be done in order for Nebraska to be prepared before any more pipe is laid in our land and water:

  • Siting/Routing. We now understand, after much confusion and obfuscation, that States have the primary responsibility over siting and routing pipelines. We agree with United States Senator Mike Johanns that TransCanada should pursue a route that avoids the Sand Hills.
  • Eminent Domain.  TransCanada has threatened Nebraska landowners with eminent domain even though they have not been granted a permit to operate this pipeline in the United States.  We are concerned about the legality of this maneuver.
  • Liability. Unlike states such as South Dakota, Nebraska has not yet determined state-wide liability standards.
  • Emergency response.  It is not clear who among the various Federal and State responders has the primary responsibilities for emergency response, especially in the Sand Hills with its low population and sparse transportation infrastructure.
  • Permitting and oversight.  Although legislation was introduced to give the Nebraska Public Service Commission oversight and permitting authority for oil pipelines, more time is needed to work with Nebraska State Agencies to develop standards and procedures.

 

 


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