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Montana Oil Spill Raises Concerns About the Age and Safety of the Nation’s Pipelines

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A large oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River has experts worried about the infrequency of inspections on the nation’s aging pipelines.

The 40,000-gallon spill is the second large spill along the river in four years.  Downstream water supplies to the city of Glendive have been contaminated, and residents rushed to stock up on bottled water after elevated levels of benzene were found in water samples taken from a treatment plant that serves about 6,000 in the agricultural community, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Senator Jon Tester (Democrat) told the AP that regulators must inspect older pipelines more frequently, and that those pipelines should face stricter safety standards. “We need to take a look at some of these pipelines that have been in the ground for half a century and say, ‘Are they still doing a good job?'” Tester said.

Just over half of the miles of pipeline in the U.S. that carry oil, gasoline and other hazardous liquids were installed before 1970. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Pipeline Safety has only approximately 150 inspectors overseeing 2.6 million miles of pipeline. An additional 100 inspectors could be added under a $27 million budget increase approved last year, but experts say that is not nearly enough, the AP reported.

In 2011, a break in the ExxonMobil pipeline spilled 63,000 gallons of oil during flooding on the Yellowstone near Billings. The accident was blamed on scouring of the river bottom that exposed the company’s Silvertip line to floodwaters, the AP wrote.

This most recent oil spill comes as many politicians, Republicans and some Democrats alike, are pushing the Obama administration to approve TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf.

In the meantime, the cleanup along the Yellowstone River has only just begun. Last week, oil sheens were spotted as far away as Williston, North Dakota, downstream from the Yellowstone’s convergence with the Missouri River. Bridger Pipeline Co. officials have struggled to effectively recover the spilt oil, the majority of which seems to be trapped underneath ice covering the river. Some residents have reported an odor similar to diesel fuel coming from their tap water. Reports of the odor prompted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to conduct further tests early last week, which is when the elevated levels of benzene were discovered, according to the AP.

Benzene in the range of 10 to 15 parts per billion was detected in the city’s water. Anything above a 5 is considered a long-term risk, the AP reported. Benzene is a known human carcinogen. Long-term exposure has been linked to leukemia and cancer of the blood-forming organs. disclaimer: This article: Montana Oil Spill Raises Concerns About the Age and Safety of the Nation’s Pipelines was posted on Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 at 5:01 pm at and is filed under Other Lawsuits, Toxic Substances Lawsuits.

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