July 4, 2011 / 7:24 PM / 6 years ago

Montana governor reviewing oil, gas pipeline safety

KALISPELL, Montana (Reuters) - Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer on Monday said authorities will review safety of all oil and gas pipelines which cross waterways in the state and close those that did not meet standards.

“We’ll make the decision over the next couple of days whether to shut off some pipelines,” Schweitzer told Reuters in a telephone interview. “The last thing I want is for another pipeline to break.”

Schweitzer said he made the move after a spill early Saturday from an Exxon Mobil pipeline released into the rain-swollen Yellowstone River near Billings up to 1,000 barrels of oil, or 42,000 gallons.

Schweitzer said the pipeline inspections -- the second round he has called for in as many months -- will assess the risk of ruptures and leaks in 88 sections of pipeline that cross rivers and streams in the state.

The review will gauge factors including the pipes’ age, thickness and corrosion, and the condition and operation of all shut-off valves. It will also evaluate whether pipeline companies have adequate emergency response and clean-up plans, including training and equipment such as boats and booms at the site, Schweitzer said.

Exxon Mobil Corp said on Monday that the spill appeared to be concentrated within a 15-mile stretch of the river between Billings and the nearby town of Laurel.

It is continuing to use aircraft to assess areas further downstream for potential damage, although the river’s fast-moving waters, boosted by runoff and snowmelt, meant that crews could not venture out in boats or walk the river’s banks to make a more detailed assessment.

Gary Pruessing, the president of the company’s pipeline unit, said the firm still does not know the cause of the leak that spilled oil into the river, but said that it may change the way it conducts pipeline safety reviews.

“This will give us additional information to think about when we consider doing risk assessments on any line that has a river crossing anywhere in the country,” Pruessing said during a news conference in Laurel, Montana.

The spill came just weeks after the company shut down the pipeline in May after the city of Laurel had safety concerns due to the rising levels of the river from rain and runoff.

“At the time we shut down the line... and went down and did a further risk assessment to make sure the site, based on technical knowledge we had, was something we’d feel comfortable to run,” Pruessing said. “We restarted the line feeling like we had a safe operation.”

HEALTH, ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT EYED

As Exxon fielded a team of 200 workers to mop up oil using absorbent booms and pads, the first reports on Monday came in of a resident downstream on the Yellowstone River sickened by the spill.

Mike Scott, co-owner of a goat ranch inundated by the rupture, said his wife, Alexis, was briefly hospitalized Monday after suffering from what doctors diagnosed as acute hydrocarbon exposure, a condition linked to exposure to petroleum chemicals.

“She started getting shortness of breath, dizziness; we took her to the hospital and they took an X-ray,” said Scott, who also works for the Sierra Club, an environmental group.

Medical staff declined to discuss the diagnosis, citing patient confidentiality.

Scott said his wife, who is a coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, is recuperating at the couple’s home, located about 15 miles downstream of the pipeline crossing.

“We’ve got to sit down and talk about whether it’s safe to stay here,” he said.

The Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river in the United States, is renowned for its trout fishing and bird life.

A team of six experts from International Bird Rescue began arriving in Montana on Sunday. They will be working with state and federal wildlife agencies to help coordinate the rescue and rehabilitation of birds feared tarred by the spill.

“There is definitely concern, there is a wonderful riparian habitat there,” said Amy Cilimburg of the Montana Audubon Society.

“We’re still trying to get some sense of how much the oil is sticking in the area,” added Cilimburg, who had not yet visited areas affected by the spill.

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