Yellowstone River Oil Spill Highlights Problems with Pipelines

A ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline along Montana’s Yellowstone River that leaked 1,000 barrels of crude is calling safety measures into question just as the Obama Administration is preparing its final review of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

"It's really important that the governor and legislators from Montana take a hard look at how similar the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is to this Exxon Mobil pipeline," Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) International Program Director Susan Casey-Lefkowitz told Greenwire. "You can't separate a discussion about the Keystone XL pipeline from the pipeline safety discussion. They have to happen together."

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would also cross the Yellowstone River, is still awaiting a permit from the State Department, as Audubon reported in the July-August issue. “Keystone XL, as TransCanada calls its proposed pipeline, will be 36 inches in diameter and two times longer than the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. In Nebraska’s Sandhills it will be buried inside the largest underground reservoir on the planet—the Ogallala Aquifer, which charges rivers, lakes, and marshes and supplies drinking and irrigation water to eight states,” Ted Williams wrote.

When the Exxon Mobil’s Silvertip pipeline burst, it damaged the ecosystem to an unknown extent, just like the Deepwater Horizon spill and another on the Kalamazoo River in Michigan last year, the largest ever in the Midwest.

Those events provide evidence that there should be stronger pipeline safety laws and highlight why the Keystone XL pipeline shouldn’t move forward, environmentalists argue. House Energy and Commerce Committee Republicans are supporting a bill that would increase safety, but legislation could also accelerate the project.

Meanwhile, Montana State University fisheries scientists are working with officials from the state and the federal government to assess the impact of the Yellowstone River spill. "In the weeks and months ahead, we will be looking for any unusual changes in the river's natural environment and any impacts on the species of fish we would expect to find at this time of year," said ecology professor Al Zale in a news release. "Some species or ages of fish may be more susceptible to this type of pollution than others."

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