Oil swirls in a flooded gravel pit in Lockwood, Montana after a pipeline break Saturday, July 2, 2011. The Exxon Mobil pipeline that runs under the Yellowstone River near Billings in south-central Montana ruptured and dumped an unknown amount of oil into the waterway, prompting temporary evacuations along the river. Billings (Montana) Gazette
LAUREL, Mont. (AP) July 3, 2011 - Authorities struggled Sunday to gauge the environmental and crop damage from tens of thousands of gallons of oil that spilled into the Yellowstone River, as Montana's governor criticized Exxon Mobil for downplaying the possible scope of the disaster.
A break in a company pipeline near Laurel fouled miles of riverbank and forced municipalities and irrigation districts to close intakes across eastern Montana.
Exxon brought in more cleanup workers to mop up crude at three sites along the flooded river that were coated with thick globs of crude. Yet there was no clear word on how far the damage extended.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) spokeswoman Sonya Pennock said the agency's staff had seen oil at least 40 miles downstream. There were other reports of oil as far as 100 miles away, near the town of Hysham.
Exxon Mobil Pipeline President Gary Pruessing said flyovers had shown most of the damage was limited to a 10-mile stretch of river, but Gov. Brian Schweitzer dismissed the claim as premature.
Exxon estimated that up to 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, spilled Saturday before the flow from the damaged pipeline was stopped. An EPA representative said only a small fraction of the spilled oil was likely to be recovered.
Pruessing also said that the 12-inch pipeline had been temporarily shut down in May because of concerns over the rising waters on the Yellowstone. He said the company restarted the line after deciding the risk was low.
The U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees pipelines, warned Exxon last year, citing seven safety violations along the ruptured pipeline. Two of the warnings faulted the company for its emergency response and pipeline corrosion training.
Transportation Department spokeswoman Patricia Klinger said Exxon had responded and the case was closed.