Council submits oil pipeline safety report to Governor

A council charged with reviewing the safety of oil pipelines in Montana has submitted its draft-final report to the Governor.

Governor Brian Schweitzer established this review council following last summer’s silvertip oil spill in the Yellowstone River. The Directors of the Montana Departments of Natural Resources and Conservation, Transportation and Environmental Quality sit on the Council.

DEQ Director Opper says the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council compiled its reports after meetings with federal regulators, citizens and companies who develop technologies to better detect pipeline leaks.

The rupturing of the Exxon Silvertip pipeline spilled over 60 thousand gallons into the Yellowstone River last July. It was a big spill that made international news. Opper says it did result in some positives.

“Now, I say that knowing that there are people who suffered terribly because their property was inundated with oil but some good things came out of this,” Opper said.

He says the state ended up getting a lot of information from the federal government it didn’t have before—like exact details on Montana’s network of pipelines and which rivers they intersect.

“We at the state really didn’t know where these crossings were. We didn’t know how many of them there were. We didn’t know what products were being carried,” he said.

The Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration did have this data. That agency also increased its inspections of pipelines in the state. Plus, Opper says after the Yellowstone spill, the public started noticing exposed and deteriorating pipes crossing streams. He says those problem crossings were identified and fixed before the start of our current runoff season.

“It’s hard to put a price on some of the problems that were averted because of this but I do know a lot of repair work has gone into some of the most difficult and problematic crossings and I think we’re a lot safer now than we would have been had this spill not occured,” he said.

As for the Yellowstone Spill, Opper says the bulk of that cleanup took place last Summer. There are parts of the spill that have been left. Opper says in these places cleaning the oil would do more harm than good.

“We’d have to rip out a willow grove to get a three-inch bathtub ring out for example,” Opper said. “Or we’d have to plow a new road for example, which would do a lot of damage or we’d spread weed infestations.”

In those spots, the oil has been left to weather away.

“Which it will do, it’s fairly benign, not a threat to wildlife, more of a nuisance now, the stuff we left behind,” Opper said.

Opper says the state does not have much regulatory authority regarding pipelines. The review council did not ask for more authority. Their final report recommends continuing to build the relationship with the federal government to keep the state’s new pipeline database up to date.

The report is out for public comment right now. The council will submit the final report to the Governor in mid-July.

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