* Will take weeks if not months to bring up pipeline-PHMSA
* Agency will act swiftly against Exxon for any violations
* Exxon has not set date for finishing spill cleanup
(Adds comments from Exxon official and environmental
By Tom Doggett
WASHINGTON, July 14 It will take several months
to investigate the cause of the leak on ExxonMobil's (XOM.N)
Silvertip oil pipeline crossing the Yellowstone River, the U.S.
pipeline safety regulator told Congress on Thursday.
"We will also ensure that the Silvertip pipeline is free of
safety and environmental risks before Exxon Mobil is granted
permission to restart the line," Cynthia Quarterman, head of
the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration,
told lawmakers at a House hearing looking into the leak.
Any violations of federal pipeline safety regulations by
Exxon will be "swiftly addressed," she said.
Quarterman said the Yellowstone River was still too high to
examine the section of the pipe that leaked, and it "may take
weeks if not months" before the pipeline can be brought up from
the river bed.
On Wednesday, Exxon said it had begun preliminary work to
replace the pipeline that ruptured and spilled an estimated
1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana two
weeks ago. [ID:nN1E76C076]
PHMSA said oil from the spill have been found at least 240
miles (386 km) downstream from the site where the pipeline
The company does not yet know what caused the leak, and is
focused on cleaning up the oil, said Gary Pruessing, president
of Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co.
"We have not put any end date on a clean-up," Pruessing
told lawmakers, noting the company has been challenged by high
Exxon plans to replace the damaged pipeline by laying a new
section of pipe 30 feet below the river bed, Pruessing said --
going beyond federal regulations that require pipelines to have
at least 4 feet of ground cover in a river bed that is more
than 100 feet wide.
Exxon and the Environmental Protection Agency have said
there is no danger to public health from the oil spill, but the
National Wildlife Federation disagreed.
"The spill has directly impacted the health and livelihoods
of landowners along the river. People have become sick due to
exposure of the oil fumes," said Douglas Inkley, a senior
scientist with the environmental group.
(Additional reporting by Anna Driver in Houston; Editing by
David Gregorio and Lisa Shumaker)