By now, many of you are aware that crude oil was released from an ExxonMobil Pipeline Company (EMPCo) line in Montana under the Yellowstone River on Friday, and cleanup operations are continuing.
As EMPCo president Gary Pruessing has said, we will stay with the cleanup until it is complete, and we sincerely apologize to the people of Montana for the inconvenience the spill has caused.
I wanted to share with you some of the key items and issues surrounding the incident:
• When the pipeline lost pressure on Friday night, our employees shut down the pumps within seven minutes, and we immediately commenced implementing our emergency response plans. In addition to our local resources at the Billings Refinery, we have flown in our national emergency response experts to support the effort. There are more than 200 people involved in the response drawn from Montana, Oregon, California, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Colorado, Maryland and Wyoming.
• As part of our cleanup strategy we have divided the area downriver of the spill into four zones – two zones for active cleanup and two zones for reconnaissance and evaluation.
• In the first two zones – Laurel to Duck Creek Bridge, a distance of seven miles from the spill location, and Duck Creek Bridge to Johnson Lane (12 miles) – we’re working on isolating and soaking up the oil, and then disposing of it using vacuum trucks. In addition, we’re taking precautions against the possibility that oil from the spill may be found further downstream. We are actively monitoring in the second two zones – Johnson Lane to Miles City (144 miles) and Miles City to Glendive (78 miles) – and we’re ready to deploy whatever resources are needed to clean up any oil that may be identified from the spill in these areas.
• Throughout this effort we are continuing to work closely with the authorities. I’ve spoken with several members of the ExxonMobil team, and they’ve all praised the coordination and support we have received from the Environmental Protection Agency; the Department of the Interior; the Montana Department of Environmental Quality; Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks; county commissioners, local response organizations, International Bird Rescue and many others. We very much appreciate the support of all who have a role to play in the response effort.
• While the safe conduct of the cleanup operation is our highest priority right now, we already have an investigation under way to understand how and why the incident occurred. Some media reports may have led people to believe that the company was issued with Department of Transportation safety violations last year following an audit in 2009. There were no violations arising from the DOT audit of the Silvertip Pipeline in 2009. A routine audit identified several issues that required attention by the company. EMPCO immediately addressed each issue and was in full compliance prior to the receipt of the DOT’s warning letter in July 2010. But regardless of what may be in the media, the need to understand exactly what happened to lead to Friday’s incident is critical – and we are determined to identify and address the root cause.
The last few days have been difficult for the local communities involved, and we sincerely appreciate their patience and understanding as we work to resolve the situation. A claims hotline number, 1-888-382-0043, has been established to assist those who might have been impacted by this event, and we encourage members of the public to report oil to assist in the cleanup effort.