By WILLIAM NEVILLE/Montana State News
An oil spill near Glendive that dumped some 50,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River will not likely result stricter regulations on pipelines, according to industry watchers.
On Jan. 17, the Bridger pipeline, carrying primarily crude oil from the Bakken oil fields, ruptured at a Yellowstone River crossing. It leaked up to 1,200 barrels of crude oil into the river near Glendive. The spill had a drastic effect on Glendive’s water supply. Residents were told not to drink tap water until environmental agencies ensured the water was safe enough to consume.
Bill Neville, a civil engineer who has worked on several oil pipelines said, “River crossings are always bad because when vector drilling is conducted in order to construct the river crossing, it’s imperative for the pipelines to be installed flat, but there is always an angle in the pipeline. Pressure and angles aren’t good friends, and bursts can happen at any time, with little to no warning. It’s fluid thermodynamics.”
Julia Haggerty, assistant professor of geography at Montana State University, does not think that the recent spills will impact public policy. She said, “Because of the weather at the time of the 2011 oil spill, things were much more visible. The oil right now is mostly trapped under the ice from my understanding. Even with the visibility and international concern at the time of the 2011 oil spill, it is not clear that there were major policy shifts in response to that oil spill.”
It is estimated that there are over 2,000 river crossings in Montana alone. The United States Department of Transportation is not only responsible for the structural stability of the Montana pipelines, but for the rest of the nation as well. Currently, there are only 159 pipe inspectors within the United States Department of Transportation. The limited staffing has some residents worried, especially those who live near the river crossings.
The Glendive spill echoed that of the Exxon-Mobil oil spill in 2011, which leaked over 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Billings.
The latest spill occurred as Republicans and some Democrats, including Montana Senator John Tester, are pushing for the current presidential administration to approve the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. Alternatively, other environmentalists, politicians and scientists are vying for a change in policy regarding the Keystone XL pipeline.
Most of the pipelines that transport oil in the state of Montana are over 50 years old. When asked about the aging infrastructure Sen. Jon Tester issued a statement saying, “We need to take a look at some of these pipelines that have been in the ground for a half a century and say, ‘Are they still doing a good job?’”
– Edited by Ian Thompson