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Jan 19, 2012


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Mary Ann Dunwell
(406) 841-5016


DEQ Seeks Public Comment on Legal Order for Yellowstone River Oil Spill


The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is asking for public comment on a proposed legal agreement with ExxonMobil Pipeline Company for monitoring, remediation, and payment of penalties and costs to mitigate the Yellowstone River Oil Spill. The 30-day public comment period on the Administrative Order on Consent ends Tuesday February 21, 2012 at midnight.

"Many landowners along the river were severely affected by the spill, so it’s important to get public input on the proposed Order and the work still to be done by ExxonMobil," said DEQ Director Richard Opper. "Just like good fences make good neighbors, good AOCs make good responsible parties, and the public has a right to weigh in and deserves assurance that this fence is sound."

The AOC spells out what remaining work DEQ requires ExxonMobil to do. Much of the cleanup from the spill has already been completed. However, the AOC outlines future monitoring of groundwater and oil-stained areas that could not be removed to make sure they’re breaking down naturally, a process called natural attenuation. The AOC specifies DEQ’s ability to require additional work if the department determines it’s necessary.

Opper said recent figures from ExxonMobil increasing the estimated amount of oil spilled did not affect the AOC because the penalty was not calculated on a per-barrel basis. He said, "Our concern was not with the amount of oil, it was with the amount of damage done by the spill, which we thoroughly documented during the summer and fall." The estimate was recently revised upwards by ExxonMobil from the original estimate of 1,000 barrels.

Also under the AOC, ExxonMobil agrees to pay a penalty, to reimburse the State for state agencies’ past costs of responding to the spill, and to cover the State’s future costs. Payment of past costs and cash penalties are due upon finalization of the AOC. Past state costs total approximately $760,000. The penalty will be paid through a combination of cash to the state and funding for DEQ-approved supplemental environmental projects. The total penalty, including money spent on the supplemental environmental projects, will be $1.6 million.

Other provisions in the AOC call for compliance with all laws and permits and stipulated penalties if the company does not comply with the AOC. Under the Order, after ExxonMobil pays the cash penalty and the state’s costs, ExxonMobil’s liability for the spill under state law would be limited to compliance with the Order. The AOC is effective until DEQ determines the company has completed the requirements and the spill no longer poses a risk to human health, safety or welfare, or to the environment. Copies of the AOC and an update on activities at the spill site will be available at DEQ’s website at

On the evening of July 1, 2011, an estimated 1,500, or 63,300 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Yellowstone River when the company’s Silvertip Pipeline broke near Laurel. The swift-moving river was at flood stage. Exactly what caused the 12-inch pipeline to rupture is under investigation by the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

By Executive Order on July 20, 2011, Governor Schweitzer established the Montana Oil Pipeline Safety Review Council to investigate pipeline river crossings in Montana and recommend steps to prevent pipeline breaks and spills. The Council has held two meetings and will meet again on Wednesday, February 8, 2012, 9 a.m. – noon, room 137, Montana State Capitol, Helena. DEQ will make reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities who wish to participate in the meeting.

For more information about the Silvertip pipeline spill visit


Mary Ann Dunwell
Public Information Coordinator
Remediation Division
Montana Department of Environmental Quality
1100 North Last Chance Gulch
Helena, MT 59601
(406) 841-5016
(406) 461-5358 (cell)

The Department of Environmental Quality's mission is to protect, sustain and improve a clean and healthful environment to benefit present and future generations.

It is the mission of the Remediation Division to protect human health and the environment by preventing exposure to contaminants released to soil or water, and to oversee compliance with state and federal laws and regulations.

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