From: Emilie Ritter, Reuters, HELENA, Montana
Published July 6, 2011 06:31 AM

Exxon oil spill on Yellowstone River impacts farms

Governor Brian Schweitzer vowed on Tuesday to cling to Exxon Mobil like "the smell on a skunk" for as long as it takes to get the company to clean up a weekend oil spill that fouled an otherwise pristine stretch of the Yellowstone River in Montana.


A 12-inch Exxon pipeline ruptured on Friday night about 150 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park near the town of Laurel, Montana, southwest of Billings, dumping up to 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of crude oil into the flood-swollen river.

Toxic fumes from the oil overcame a number of people who reported breathing problems and dizziness and were taken to local hospitals. But state and federal officials on Tuesday said they lacked a tally of health problems or the number of riverside homes that were evacuated after the accident.

Exxon officials said shoreline oil contamination extended at least 25 miles downstream but appeared to be confined mostly to scattered pockets along the river.

The company said water pipes for municipal drinking supplies to the city of Billings and suburban Lockwood were reopened after a precautionary shutdown for a few hours just after the spill.

But Schweitzer said dozens of landowners have been affected so far and that a "great deal of oil" had washed into low-lying areas along the banks of the Yellowstone.

"These riparian, lowland areas, these wetlands are the health of these rivers," he said, adding that the full extent and scope of contamination remains to be seen. He said trace amounts of oil already had been swept hundreds of miles downstream into the Missouri River and beyond.

About 350 cleanup personnel were working along the Yellowstone on Tuesday, using oil-absorbent materials to blot up as much crude as possible, according to Exxon and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the operation.

Photo shows n aemergency response crew hired by Exxon Mobil cleaning up an oil spill with an absorbent boom along the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana, July 5, 2011.  Credit: REUTERS/John Warner

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