Tracking the Yellowstone oil spill
Workers try to clean up oil Wednesday along the flooded Yellowstone River near Laurel, Montana.
July 7th, 2011
11:46 AM ET

Tracking the Yellowstone oil spill

Under normal conditions, the Yellowstone River is a beautiful body of water, a postcard picture of America's West.

But now pockets of thick crude oil appear along the river's banks in Billings, Montana. Around 42,000 gallons of the stuff leaked into the river last week after an oil pipeline ruptured.

No one knows why the pipeline broke. It should have been buried under 5 to 8 feet of the riverbed, said Claire Hassett, a spokeswoman for Exxon Mobil, the pipeline's owner.

One culprit could be the heavy flooding hitting the area. It's possible the floodwaters could have exposed the pipeline and debris floating downstream, then caused the rupture.

Even though the oil spill is widespread, it's not always easy to get to. In Laurel, Montana, near where the spill happened, Exxon security guards block off a public road leading to cleanup operations. Media from around the world wait to be escorted into one area to film the spill. Hassett said the escort is to protect reporters from the floodwaters.

When we are allowed to document some of the cleanup, we see groups of workers in waders dabbing up the sludge with absorbent pads.

It's going to be a painstakingly long process, one that worries Alexis Bonogofsky. She grew up on the same farm where she now raises goats and chickens. Oil has polluted the edge of her farmland and prevents her from grazing her animals.

She hasn't been told how long the cleanup will take and what the health effects will be. But she says she is afraid the spill will haunt this region for some time.

"You go down to where the oil is," she says, "and you don't hear anything anymore. No birds, no toads, no crickets, nothing. It's just silent."

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Filed under: Energy • Environment • Montana
soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. banasy

    Wish I was there, I could use the oil to lubricate myself.

    July 7, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  2. CSnSC

    Orin, of course you are right. We need the earth. But real life alternatives do not exist yet. In the entire history of man, real innovation and progressive leaps of knowledge only occur as a result of disaster or eminnate demise.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • SJC2

      We have had alternative since the 1920s, Carter wanted synthetic fuels and the Republicans blocked every attempt on behalf of the oil companies and then they try to call themselves "patriots".

      July 7, 2011 at 9:59 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RN

    Boycott EXXON. The oil they spill and the tax breaks PLUS money back from the gov't is waaaay more than any of us will ever get out of our gov't for all the taxes we pay.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  4. LandO10KLks

    These billion dollar corporations that thrive on selling energy do have the means of trying to develop cleaner energy. Instead, they run their pipelines through the cheapest way they can and profit off the backs of the people whose lives they put at stake when the so-called safety measures they put into place fail. How often, how, when, who monitors these pipelines and considers them safe? They are, it seems, regulating themselves. It's not just the oil pipelines, it's the gas lines, the power lines. It's the mining companies. They have the means to develop safer, greener ways of doing things, but because it may dip into their huge corporate bonuses, and because LAWS tell them that they don't have to, they get away with doing a half- a s s job.

    July 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Jay Horn

    For wind power to work, it requires a rare element. Which means more mining and more environmental damage. How about real solutions like natural gas to power cars and trucks or hydrogen. The byproduct of hydrogen is water.

    July 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
  6. concerned citizen

    This is just another example of how oil companies are slowly but surely destroying the world.
    This is completly unacceptable.
    Exxon needs to be help exclusively responsible and all cleanup efforts need to come directly from their pockets.
    In addition, they should be fined heavily for defiling a National Park and World Heritage site.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Anthony Trial Juror #77

    Its all the dang trees and animals falt. If they werent there the wouldnt be getting oil and stuff on them.

    July 7, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
  8. dslguy

    This is gonna hurt the wildlife so bad just like the women here said, she hears no more birds or crickits or anything by the river now and will not for who knows how long and that is very bad, what a pristine piece of property now tainted so bad it will devoid the area of wildlife as it is slowly posioned by the almighty oil. This is truly a sign of how oil cares for nobody or nothing and now you wish to open up alaska waters?? i can see it coming the artic is as good as done and it seems our gov and oil ex's just care for money no matter what face they show you, wildlife will soon be a thing of the past as well as forests and clean water as we are truly doomed when they are gone as these are the very things that gave us life and we will kill it and it will take life simple as that. I am very distressed about it and will be for my lifetime.

    July 7, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
  9. CSnSC

    Well, cheer up. That may come pretty soon.

    July 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
  10. sarah

    And like B.P. Exxon will quietly go away from the front page news,and not much will be done(if anything)I hope the people who are and will be affected by this stay vocal,and keep this in the papers.We here in the south are still waiting to hear why the deaths of turtles and dolphins happened(well, we KNOW why)

    July 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. D Grant

    Not until corporate bank account are hacked, looted and the money is placed into the accounts of regular americans will they GET the message!

    July 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. b morgan

    This oil spill is a non-event compared to what the People of New York will face when it lets the "frackers" in ...

    July 8, 2011 at 8:36 am | Report abuse |
  13. Ricardo

    Exxon Mobil Co. had reassured federal regulators and officials from a Montana town since December that an oil pipeline beneath the Yellowstone River was safe, buried deep enough to avoid any accidental ruptures.
    Then, on Friday night, the pipe failed, spilling an estimated 42,000 gallons into the flooded river, where is Anderson Cooper at this time ?? why is not important this spill is becouse is Exxon ? . We want to see you there Mr Anderson with the same interest and force with BP.

    July 8, 2011 at 9:25 am | Report abuse |
  14. TravelDoc

    Am I the only one who cannot get this story to post to my FaceBook wall? Hmmm...

    July 8, 2011 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  15. Free-Bird

    You know its getting bad when these things seem to be happening all the time . There needs to be a change and pronto but until the people stand up for what is right these kind of atrocities will continue to happen and only get worse ! We as a whole have lost are back bone to stand for what is right and just , instead we done just the opposite and stand for the wrong and ungodly . We are just feeding the beast but what can one person do ?

    July 8, 2011 at 10:01 am | Report abuse |
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