Pipeline spill clean-up efforts in Montana continue despite ice

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Responders recovered 240 barrels of oil from a breached pipeline in Montana, despite icy conditions that were slowing down efforts, the Environmental Protection Agency and Bridger Pipeline LLC said Wednesday.

“We were very pleased that we were able to get that oil out of the pipeline,” keeping it from spilling into the Yellowstone River, Bridger spokesman Bill Salvin said. He said the recovery reduced the volume of the spill to less than a thousand barrels.

Glendive, a city of 5,000 people about five miles downstream from the pipeline, remained without drinking water due to elevated levels of volatile organic compounds from the spill.

The pipeline will not reopen until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration finishes its investigation into what caused the breach, PHMSA spokesman Damon Hill said. Hill said he did not know how long that would take.

The 42,000 barrel-per-day Poplar pipeline system gathers crude from producers in eastern Montana and North Dakota.

A team of responders organized by the Environmental Protection Agency is working with Bridger contractors to recover oil from the river, but ice has made it more difficult, EPA on-scene coordinator Paul Peronard said.

About half of the oil spilled in an incident like this typically gets recovered, Peronard said.

“And the worse conditions get, the lower your recovery rates go,” Peronard said. “We’ll never recover all the oil.”

While the EPA extracted oil, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality extracted benzene, a volatile organic compound that was detected at an elevated level in the water yesterday.

Department spokeswoman Jeni Garcin-Flatow said test results returned tomorrow will indicate how soon residents could flush and drink the water.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advised people to be cautious about eating fish from that river. The agency said it would take up to two weeks to determine whether the fish are suitable for consumption.

Reporting By Samantha Sunne; Editing by David Gregorio