Exxon says Montana pipeline repairs to take weeks

Wed Jul 6, 2011 6:10pm EDT

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* Restoration not expected for at least two weeks

* Company says spill volume likely 750 barrels

By Kristen Hays

HOUSTON, July 6 (Reuters) - Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N) is working on a plan to repair and restart a ruptured Montana pipeline that spilled up to 1,000 barrels of crude into the Yellowstone River last weekend, but restoration is not expected for at least two weeks, an executive said on Wednesday.

"Restoration of the line is something we'll look at separately," said Gary Pruessing, president of Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company. "It's not something that's going to happen in the next day, or week, or couple of weeks."

He said the immediate concern is cleanup of leaked oil from the Silvertip line.

The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the cause of the spill, along with Exxon Mobil and Montana state environmental regulators.

Pruessing also said Exxon continues to estimate that 750 to 1,000 barrels of oil leaked into the river, but the company's "best engineering estimate is the 750 number."

He said the company also calculated a worse outcome to come up with the 1,000-barrel figure "to make sure we did not underestimate the impact that we're having to deal with."

Pruessing also addressed questions over how long it took Exxon to shut down the pipeline once the leak was discovered late Friday.

Exxon shut down pumps in the 70-mile pipeline that supplies its 60,000 barrel-per-day (bpd) refinery in Billings, Montana, within seven minutes of discovering a drop in pressure, Pruessing said.

While Exxon had said publicly that it took 30 minutes to close valves in the line to stop oil left inside from leaking, Pruessing said on Wednesday that company told PHMSA it took 49 minutes to shut them.

He said Exxon's leak estimate stands either way.

The Billings refinery continued running at minimum rates as the company sought alternative sources of crude supply. CHS Inc's (CHSCP.O) 59,600 bpd refinery in nearby Laural, Montana, which sometimes receives crude from the Silvertip line, continued running normally on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. (Additional reporting by Anna Driver; Editing by David Gregorio)

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