Yellowstone River Oil Spill a Red Flag Ahead of Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Decision

07-08-2011 // Miles Grant
Yellowstone River Oil Spill

The National Wildlife Federation held a teleconference today to update reporters on the Yellowstone River oil spill response and to call for a hold on action on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline until the investigation in Montana is complete.

While Exxon Mobil had claimed the rupture of its Silvertip oil pipeline had only released oil for 30 minutes, federal documents now show it took 56 minutes to completely close the pipeline. And although Exxon Mobil originally estimated the oil would travel just 10 miles downstream, pools of oil have now been reported 80 miles down the Yellowstone River.

Including the Gulf oil disaster and Michigan’s Kalamazoo River oil spill, the Yellowstone River spill becomes America’s third major oil disaster in just the last 15 months.

Jennifer Pelej, dirty fuels campaign field coordinator in the National Wildlife Federation’s Northern Rockies & Prairies Regional Center, is now at the spill site:

The scene here is disturbingly similar to America’s two other recent oil disasters, with residents reporting delayed response, lack of transparency, and difficulty getting questions answered. Landowners report receiving only vague reassurances from Exxon Mobil instead of the good information they need to make decisions about their families and property. Some residents originally evacuated from the spill zone were sent back home only to then report feeling health issues from oil on their property. They're also reporting an eerie silence as frogs and crickets are no longer heard along oil-impacted ares of the river's banks. High water levels are also making it hard for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials to get a clear assessment of fish and wildlife impacts.  

Kathy Hadley, resident of Montana’s Deer Lodge Valley, member of the NWF Board of Directors, and executive director of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, said today:

I’ve lived in Montana for more than 30 years, fishing and floating its rivers. It makes me sick to think of how much damage the Yellowstone River oil spill may be causing to residents, ranchers, and wildlife as we struggle to get good information about impacts. Our federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, need to take a stronger leadership role. The only chance we have for something good to come out of this is for Congress to wake up and pay attention to our inadequate oil pipeline safety measures."

Jane Kleeb, executive director of Bold Nebraska, said today:

"After the Gulf oil disaster and Kalamazoo River oil spill, we shouldn’t need any more red flags to slow down and re-evaluate oil safety. But here we are trying to clean up yet another major oil spill in another of America’s treasured waters. Any new oil infrastructure, like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, must be carefully considered with public safety, not political pressure, as the top concern.
Yellowstone River Oil Spill

Since the Yellowstone River oil spill began, the reckless arrogance of Keystone XL pipeline builder TransCanada has been on full display. Their claim that nothing has changed is a slap in the face to every resident, from Montana to Nebraska to Texas, who’d see the proposed pipeline run through their community. With 12 spills in just 12 months on TransCanada’s Keystone I pipeline, our land & water are far too important to rely on empty promises and false reassurances."

Dr. Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation and our lead scientific responder to the Gulf oil disaster, said today:

As a scientist, I’m concerned about both short-term and long-term impacts to the water and wetlands, and the people, fish and wildlife that depend upon the Yellowstone River. The Yellowstone River provides critically needed water and habitat in an otherwise dry landscape. It was only several years ago that the bald eagle, which inhabits the area, was removed from the endangered species list. The endangered pallid sturgeon also lives downstream from the spill. One can expect a decline in overall water quality, which isn’t good for anything. Most at risk are relatively immobile wildlife such as frogs, salamanders, and turtles. Beaver, otter and muskrat are also in harm’s way.

Sadly, industry is using the same playbook to respond to the Yellowstone River spill that it did in the Gulf oil disaster. Exxon Mobil has responded slowly while rushing to tell reporters the pipeline was safe. Montana’s people, fish and wildlife didn’t deserve this oil spill in the Yellowstone River, but they do deserve a better response from Big Oil.

Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) has introduced legislation (H.R. 1938) to force regulators to rush their decision on the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. The bill has already cleared the House Energy and Commerce Committee and could reach the House floor as soon as next week.

Jeremy Symons, senior vice president of the National Wildlife Federation, said today:

Clearly, the legislation to rush the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline should be postponed until we know the cause of the Yellowstone River oil spill and deal with pipeline safety issues. We need a full investigation into the safety of this and other pipelines, updated pipeline safety regulations and stronger oversight. Instead, we’re seeing Congress rush to build America’s next great oil disaster, the massive Keystone XL tar sands pipeline."

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee plans to hold a hearing on pipeline safety on July 14.

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