More oil than first stated in Yellowstone River pipeline leak

An ExxonMobil sign

Tess Vigeland: Today the Department of Transportation said it took Exxon about twice as long as the company originally reported to plug a pipeline leak in Montana. That means much more oil than Exxon first stated has flowed into the swollen Yellowstone River. Locals complain that useful information is hard to come by.

And this afternoon, state officials walked out of Exxon's command center to establish an independent investigation. From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports.


Eve Troeh: Montana has a short summer growing season. That means long hours for farmers like Dena Hoff. She and her husband raise sheep and grow beans, alfalfa and wheat -- and they rely on irrigation.

Dena Hoff: Our water comes out of the Yellowstone River. You know, everything that goes into that river goes downstream.

Just how far downstream is the big question. Right after the spill, Exxon said the oil contaminated 10 miles of river. Then it said maybe more. Dena Hoff lives about 200 miles downstream. She made plans to water next week. Then, a local news report: Oil less than 40 miles away.

Hoff: Having heard that they have found oil just 38 miles upriver, I'm a little nervous about even starting on Monday.

If she waits, her crops suffer.

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is demanding better information.

Brian Schweitzer: We don't know how much oil went into the river and we're losing confidence in the spokesman from Exxon Mobil.

Schweitzer says that even though only a few thousand acres are at risk, his office has big questions about Exxon's ability to operate this pipeline safely.

Schweitzer: This Silvertip pipeline has had problems over the years. The record is replete with the agencies suggesting that they make changes. For sure it changes the formula as to what ExxonMobil is doing.

What doesn't change? Montana's commitment to pipelines. Schweitzer still supports a new $7 billion pipeline, the Keystone XL. It'll be three times the size of the Silvertip line and cross not just the Yellowstone River, but the Missouri River, too.

Schweitzer says better technology makes that line much safer.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.

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