July 9, 2011 / 6:54 PM / 7 years ago

Exxon submits draft clean-up plan in Montana oil spill

BILLINGS, Montana (Reuters) - ExxonMobil on Saturday submitted a draft clean-up plan of its Yellowstone River oil spill to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Few details were immediately available of the draft report submitted by Exxon, which according to an EPA order should spell out how the oil giant will monitor the environment, clean up pollutants, restore damaged areas on the Yellowstone and dispose of hazardous wastes.

Exxon turned in the report, which was ordered by the EPA, as a congressional panel said it would examine pipeline safety following the rupture that released crude oil into one of America’s most pristine rivers just 150 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park.

The U.S. House Transportation subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials plans to examine safety this week, according to the panel’s website.

A 12-inch Exxon pipeline carrying oil to Billings-area refineries burst on July 1, releasing what the company has estimated at 1,000 barrels of petroleum into the river.

Exxon has apologized for the spill and on Friday said it has stepped up clean-up efforts.

Federal officials say shoreline contamination has been observed over an area stretching at least 240 miles/386 km downstream from the burst pipeline.

Government environmental officials were testing for air pollution and water contamination on private properties and the EPA has in recent days stepped up a program to monitor the air quality in homes and test for toxins in wells.

The move came after some downstream residents questioned the safety of wells for drinking water and livestock use and others reported dizziness and respiratory distress after being exposed to fumes from the oil.

Residents whose properties have been soiled by toxic petroleum chemicals also said that EPA and Exxon officials were unresponsive to their concerns.

Those claims were among reasons cited by Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer on Thursday when he pulled the state from an emergency response panel led by Exxon and opened an office to investigate the spill and to aid residents.

Schweitzer, who has threatened to hold Exxon liable in court, has also accused Exxon of underestimating the amount of oil spilled.

High water in the Yellowstone has hindered government and Exxon efforts to determine the cause of the failure of the pipeline, which was buried in the riverbed. Exxon said it shut down pumps on the pipeline to stop the oil flow within six minutes of discovering that something was wrong.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Greg McCune and Bill Trott

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