| BILLINGS, Mont, July 10
BILLINGS, Mont, July 10 Federal regulators said
on Sunday they want Exxon Mobil (XOM.N) to retool its
preliminary plan to clean up oil spilled into the Yellowstone
River in Montana from a ruptured pipe at the start of July.
A U.S. Environmental Protection Agency official, Steve
Merritt, said three elements of the plan were incomplete. He
said Exxon must revise how it will capture spilled oil, remove
the broken pipe without causing pollution downstream, and
restore the wildlife habitat and private property.
Merritt, the EPA's on-scene coordinator for the spill, said
officials wanted Exxon to finish the revisions by "one week
Exxon said it "will continue to work closely with the EPA
on the draft work plan and will comply with this request,"
spokesman Pius Rolheiser said in a statement.
Details of the preliminary plan will not be released until
the EPA and Montana approve it. Merritt said the government had
given preliminary approval to several elements of the plan,
including for disposing of hazardous waste and for sampling.
Exxon is facing an EPA-ordered deadline of September 9 to
clean up a river renowned for its scenic beauty, near pristine
waters and wealth of wildlife and fish.
The company has apologized for the spill and pledged to
restore the Yellowstone. Mop-up is under way along shorelines
but high water has prevented an inspection of the pipeline and
Exxon estimates that 42,000 gallons of crude were released
during the accident. Record flows in the Yellowstone have
delayed a probe of the damaged 12-inch pipeline, which was
buried in the streambed.
Federal regulators estimate the oil has traveled 240 miles
downstream from the site of the rupture, west of Billings,
crossing near the south-central Montana community of Laurel.
Helicopter flights along the river corridor by government
and Exxon officials showed oiled riverbanks, wetlands and
cropland 70 miles downstream of the spill.
Water testing by the EPA on July 4 showed no detectable
levels of three known carcinogens associated with crude oil,
and air monitoring revealed no major health threats so far.
Yet at least five residents have been treated in hospital
emergency rooms for symptoms like dizziness, nausea and
respiratory distress linked to exposure to petrochemicals,
according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Lisa Williams, contaminants specialist with the U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service, said that biologists were monitoring a
handful of oil-tainted wildlife, including Canada geese, a
white pelican and a heron.
The company has logged nearly 300 calls to its hotline,
including from 100 people volunteering for clean-up efforts.
Exxon is responding to roughly 100 claims stemming from
property, agriculture or health concerns, a statement said.
Handling of the spill has cooled relations between the oil
giant and Montana, one of just two states whose constitutions
guarantee a "clean, healthful environment."
Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer has pulled the state from
a panel, including Exxon and EPA, overseeing the spill
response. He said its closed meetings and withholding of
documents from the public violated open-government laws.
Schweitzer opened a state office in Billings to respond to
any health and property concerns. A trained soil scientist, he
encouraged those affected by the spill to document damage and
collect water and soil samples for testing.
While some landowners have praised Exxon for picking up the
tab for everything from hotel rooms to livestock feed, others
have expressed frustration and worry in the absence of a
detailed timeline for cleaning their oil-fouled lands.
Kelly Goodman, who lives on riverside property homesteaded
by her family over a century ago, said her livelihood has been
disrupted by contamination of pastures and wetlands.
Goodman's sheep and horses have been confined to a small
fenced area to prevent them from exposure to oil-stained
grasses and tainted water. She said she has been unable to work
the champion sheep-herding dogs she raises, shows and sells.
Goodman said she is also uneasy about wells that supply
drinking water, and over the safety of crops fed by river
"I can't remember the last time I ate a decent meal or had
a full night's rest," she said. "The main thing I would like is
to have everything like it was."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)