The US Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration announced it was fining the oil company Exxon Mobil US$1.7 million for safety violations which led to 238 000 liters of oil entering the Yellowstone River in Montana in July 2011. The incident occurred during seasonal flooding, leading to scouring of the riverbed, exposing a pipeline buried a meter beneath the surface, and contributing towards its rupturing. The spill caused a plume of oil 40 km long, fouling riverbanks, causing residents to be evacuated and disrupting the tourist industry in Yellowstone National Park.
Oil on the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Montana. Associated Press.
The agency found that Exxon should have foreseen the possibility of scouring and erosion affecting the pipeline and taken appropriate precautions. Furthermore it took pipeline controllers in Houston almost an hour to shut down the pipeline after realizing there was a problem, significantly increasing the amount of oil entering the river. In total over 100 km of riverbank, killing fish and wildlife and leading to a cleanup operation that lasted several months and which cost Exxon an estimated US$135 million.
The federal fine comes on top of $1.6 million the company has already agreed to pay the State of Montana for water pollution violations. Exxon will have 30 days to appeal the decision.
See also Willard Bay State Park, Utah, closed by oil spill, Pipeline explosion in Ogun State, southwest Nigeria, Gas pipeline explosion in West Virginia, Amnesty International reports on the 2012 Bodo Oil Spill and Oil spill on the Red Deer River.
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