Oil pipeline ruptures. Massive pollution of Yellowstone River

ExxonMobil pipeline under the Yellowstone River releases 30,000 – 50,000 gallons of crude into world famous river-

It’s another one of those things they claimed was too unlikely to worry about. Now there is a large oil slick drifting down the Yellowstone River toward the Missouri, ruining riverside property, and polluting not just the river but the wetlands along it. In some places residents have been evacuated.

This very large emission of oil (very large for a river) was a rupture, not a “leak,” nor a “spill.” We notice already some news sources have reduced it to a leak and the company is apologizing for “the incident,” e.g., “We will stay with the cleanup until it is complete, and we sincerely apologize to the people of Montana for any inconvenience the incident is creating.” (From the pipeline subsidiary President).  Here is the latest CNN story. Swift water hinders Yellowstone River oil spill cleanup. By the CNN Wire Staff

The rupture took place near Billings, MT. The pipeline brings crude to the oil refinery at Billings. The Billings Gazette has a series of stories on the disaster. The Yellowstone River Oil Spill.

The likelihood of blowouts like this is one reason there is so much opposition from fish and wildlife interests and farmers to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would bring syncrude from the Alberta tar sand pit mines down into the mid-West.
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Update (opinion). Yellowstone River Damaged by Exxon Pipeline Oil Spill – Exxon’s History in Montana Continues its Abysmal Path. From the Switchboard. NRDC staff blog.


  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I see that one of the best informed participants in this forum, “elk275”, has been badly affected by this oil mess.

    1. JimT Avatar

      Though he and I don’t share the same views on some matters, I wish him and his family well in surviving this mess. Oil is simply toxic, and spills WILL happen, no matter what the American Petroleum Insitute, Exxon-Mobil, or any other of the oil and gas apologists state. And they kill…

  2. Larry Zuckerman Avatar
    Larry Zuckerman

    I used to permit oil and natural gas lines across Kansas and at the time, mostly to avoid Clean Water Act 404 permitting, but also environmental disasters like this, especially for streams and rivers that supported threatened and endnangered fish, reptiles, and birds, like least terns and piping plovers, the companies like Williams Natural Gas used to employ directional boring, way beneath the rivers and their riparian zones.

    I wonder if this Exxon crude line was buried in the stream bed OR directionally bored. My guess, buried and exposed… and rupture – totally preventable with technology available in the 1980s.

    1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan

      Larry Zuckerman,

      I think the blog written today by the NRDC on the history of this pipeline bears out what you wrote above.


  3. timz Avatar

    How was he affected Ralph?

    1. Elk275 Avatar


      I am not affected financially or have lost anything of value, but I am pissed off that something like this would happen. This is my river. I grew up on the Yellowstone River in Billings, most of my time is on the Upper Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley 20 years ago when I was a fishing guide. After a day on the river a cold beer was always awaiting at Chico or the Old Saloon; I enjoyed those days but have moved on.

      Below Billings the Yellowstone becomes a prairie river with sandstone cliffs and mature Cottonwood trees and a slower gradient. The river bottom is intensively farmed. Last Christmas, I was at my little sister’s farm where the Bighorn flows into the Yellowstone, where Manuel Lisa built Fort Raymond in 1807, guided by John Colter, no one knows exactly where the fort was located. I was walking along the edge of the river looking for a pheasant or a Hun and thinking how much the valley has changed in the last 200 years and yet how much is still remains the same, this is the longest free flowing river in the lower forty eight. It was a very cold day and part of me wanted to find the fort and join the free trappers drinking their Christmas grogs of whiskey. With no bird for the pot, I broken open my shotgun and removed two shell from there chambers and put them in my pocket. The fort is a modern farm house and drink of the day is Silver Fizzes.

      The buffalo, mountain sheep and the grizzly bear are now gone and in the last 20 years, the elk have returned. When November returns and I return to hunt, will the river have cleansed itself or will it be years before it returns to normal. The river now will be running low and we will cross a back channel to an island hunting whitetail, will the river rocks or the pooled water in the back eddies have a sheen of oil. Time will tell.

      Tomorrow I am going to the Ruby Valley and Snowcrest Mountains for the day.

      1. JimT Avatar

        Expect lasting effects, even if you can’t see them. The nature of spills…

      2. Christopher Avatar

        Elk 275,
        I hope you didn’t take anything I said on the other post personally. I get tired of the promises too. Here in Kentucky one f the major problems is the failure of coal waste impoundments. These reservoirs contain high levels of toxic heavy metals. They are poorly constructed and often fail. One infamous example occurred near Inez in Eastern KY. Much of the town was buried in up to seven feet of toxic coal sludge as was the valley it sits in. Of course this all drains into the Ohio River eventually and into the drinking water of millions of Americans from Cincinnati to New Orleans. I understand the feeling of seeing something someone sees as beautiful and treasured being soiled

  4. Mike Avatar

    I’m shocked and saddened at this disaster. this is a beautiful stretch of river with all kindsof wildlife. I’d always stop along the mighty Yellowstone from Glendive Laurel, filming wildlife such as beaver, eagle, muskrat, pelicans, etc.

    According to reports, this pipeline was only 5-8 feet below the river. Lazy. Inexcusable.

    My thoughts and wishes go out to those affected by this incident, and of course to all the wildlife that will be poisoned by man’s stupidity and greed.

  5. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
    Rita K. Sharpe

    It is a sad tale of events.I rather cringe when they say something to the effect of,”What are the chances of it happening”.Well,when they do go wrong,it affects everyone and everything.I hope that,elk275, and his family,along with others,are okay.

  6. Phil Avatar

    I am shocked and saddened at the disaster as well. Good luck to you elk275 and others who live in the area. Hopefully there is a good chance the spill has not directly harmed any wildlife, but we all know how devastating oil spills are to them.

  7. vickif Avatar

    We have had reminder after reminder that oil is a pollutant that can damage even the most treasured of places. We cannot expect it will only happen else where. Most of us live closer to the Yellowstone than the Valdez or Florida areas. But the facts remain- no place is sacred when it comes to oil. It just pollutes.
    What is the solution? I can’t say for certain.
    What is the tragedy? That is self evident to anyone who has an I.Q. over 10!
    Accuntability needs to be demanded, and appreciation for resources is sorrily lacking!

    1. Salle Avatar

      I share all the condolences to those downriver of the spill. It will be a long, sad time pof wildlife and riparian destruction, thanks to oil company and it’s minions.

      VickiF, I share your sentiments but with many paid off members of Congress who apologize to oil industry crooks and thieves for “we the people” getting pissed off at their willful and wanton degradation of our environment, it’s a really fat chance that they will be held accountable for this event either.

      I think of how flooded all the rivers are at this point, the Thoroughfare still has an amazing amount of snow in the mountains yet so the flooding will continue for a while yet… which will push the pollution downriver for a long distance and it will not be “cleaned up” as promised, since it is impossible to do so with any certainty or actual ability. I can see it swirling through eastern Montana and down the Missouri all the way to add to the gulf oil spill stuff and all the flood damage already in progress… It only gets uglier the more you think about it. When it comes to money and power (both figuratively and literally), nothing is sacred, except exploitation and profit over all other possible gains. (Why I decry capitalism… because this is the end result in most every case.)

  8. Salle Avatar

    Kudos to the Governor for his stance…

    Exxon Claims Spill Damage Limited, Gov. Doubtful

  9. malencid Avatar

    The comments on the Billings Gazette website will amaze you. It seems that the people there are blaming environmentalists and fully support Exxon. They leave you with the impression that a much larger full fledged oil spill is nothing to worry about.

    1. Rita K. Sharpe Avatar
      Rita K. Sharpe

      Everybody is out to get them.

    2. Mike Avatar

      These are the same people whose ten MPG SUV’s and pickups are worth more than their homes.

  10. Larry Zuckerman Avatar
    Larry Zuckerman

    Seems like Exxon Mobil picked the wrong people to swamp with crude oil – one of the organic goat farms near Billings that received the most damage is owned by an interesting couple – she is the Tribal representative for the National Wildlife Federation… and he works for the Sierra Club. Despite what Exxon claims during their press conferences – they have filmed Canada geese unable to take off from oil-soaked riparian wetlands, fish swimming erratically through polluted river waters, and a rare spiny softshell turtle (rare for MT; that is) springing off a log into water coated with an oily sheen. She had to go to the emergency room in Billings and was treated for acute hydrocarbon exposure – too many tours of spoiled riparian wetlands with camera crews and reporters; she must have breathed in too much. Others have been treated for breathing and other health problems.

    Also one of their nanny goats is sick and she was nursing kids. I bet some of the crude oil and its chemical components, like benzene, are getting into low-lying riparian wetlands through subirrigation with the Yellowstone beyond flood stage (and not dropping, actually rose, with heat and additional snowmelt in Yellowstone NP and surrounding mountains).

    Better question to Exxon: how do you remediate an oil-soaked, tree-lined riparian area with extensive riparian wetlands? When you remove the soil, don’t you have to destroy the wetlands and riparian forests? How long, if ever, does it take to recover this kind of disturbance and regain ecological functioning?

    Are the riparian trees and wetlands history once soil is removed? Will the Yellowstone River unravel once its wetland soils are removed as well as its majestic cottonwood galleries and willows?

  11. JB Avatar

    “Exxon Mobil Co. reassured concerned regulators that an oil pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River was buried deep enough and not in danger just a month before it broke in a flood and spewed an estimated 1,000 barrels of crude into the waterway.”

    Read more: http://www.seattlepi.com/news/article/Exxon-said-failed-Mont-pipeline-was-deeply-buried-1452327.php#ixzz1RLvVbznj

  12. vickif Avatar

    Repulsive. The absolute disregard for legality is shameful, and the obvious lack of intergrity is nauseating. Oil companies, are just companies. It is absolutely perverse that people who own stock in the companies condone this. I say each stock holder should be fined, in proportion to their ownership, for any and all damages.
    Maybe when oil, and stock holders, big money, and politicians have to suffer where they live (their wallets)they will vote for ethical industry!

    Glad some people with a clue are getting the word out. I would question the activism that would occur if these folks had been cattle ranchers with public grazing leases would have been the primarily impacted? Would they then stand up and cry “save the river and land for our cattle?”

    It is sincerely hard not to become hopeless in this country. I don’t condone eco-terrorism, but I get how desperation could push people to irrational behavior.

    Too bad there is not a damn thing any of us can do that can fix this horrible catastrophy!

    1. william huard Avatar
      william huard

      Unfortunately irrational behavior isn’t in short supply today. States like Texas don’t raise taxes on the wealthiest people in the country meanwhile towns are laying off whole police departments!!!!Or shortening the school week for children.
      Why is everyone bashing the wealthiest company on the planet- they are cleaning up the spill with what looks like 40 year old technology- brawny paper towels?


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Ralph Maughan