State looking for more money from Exxon following Yellowstone River spill

State officials are trying to get more money from Exxon-Mobil following last year’s oil leak in the Yellowstone River, which spilled over 60,000 gallons into the river in July.

The state Department of Environmental quality agreed to a $1.6 million dollar settlement earlier this month. That settlement covers damage to the River’s water and banks. Now the state Attorney General’s office is looking to Exxon to pay for the effects to fish and wildlife.

Supervising Assistant Attorney General for the state’s Natural Resource Damage Program, Robert Collins, says the one point six million dollar settlement already agreed to with Exxon does not cover fish and wildlife.

Exxon reached that settlement with the Department of Environmental Quality. Collins said DEQ wanted to reach a settlement quickly, but that’s not an option for the Natural Resource Damage Program.

“We’re talking about damages to fish and to birds and to wildlife habitat and it takes some time to quantify those injuries and to put a dollar value to it,” he said.

He said the NRD office is working with federal officials and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to conduct an initial assessment of damages. They’ve been working on it since the July spill.

“At the time of the oil spill there was a survey of birds that had been oiled. There were a number of birds that had died and a number of birds they cleaned,” he said, adding they are looking at Exxon maps of places where the oil originally spread in both the river and the floodplain.

“Then there was some other maps that showed there’s still residual oil in the floodplain so that there’s additional injury to the habitat that exists today in terms of that residual oiling,” he said.

NRD is also examining the impact of lost public use of the river, such as recreation, fishing or hunting and lost revenue for businesses like fishing guide companies.

Collins said this initial assessment should be done by the end of Spring. A more formal assessment would follow. Collins said the state would be interested in reaching a settlement with Exxon at any time, but he acknowledges cases like this can last for years. He mentioned the state’s lawsuit with ARCO over mining effects on the Clark Fork River lasted from 1983 all the way until 2008.

Exxon Mobil officials did release a statement on the state’s investigation, saying the company regrets this incident occurred and continues to take full responsibility for the cleanup. A spokeswoman said Exxon has expressed its willingness to work cooperatively with the investigation.

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