Over 100 residents of Laurel, Montana, were evacuated from their homes early Saturday morning due to oil pipeline that spilled approximately 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.
The pipeline, which is owned by ExxonMobil, runs under the Yellowstone River near Billings in south-central Montana and leaked oil for about 30 minutes, according to a company spokesperson. At the time of this posting, the cause of the rupture is still unknown.
According to KSNT.com, Brent Peters, the fire chief for the city of Laurel about 12 miles east of Billings, said the break in the 12-inch diameter pipe occurred late Friday about a mile south of Laurel.
He said about 140 people were evacuated starting about 12:15 a.m. Saturday due to concerns about possible explosions, and the overpowering fumes. He said they were allowed to return at about 4 a.m. after instruments showed fumes had decreased. He said more evacuations occurred farther downstream outside his district but those numbers weren’t immediately clear.
ExxonMobil issued a statement in which it said that “The company ‘deeply regrets this release and is working hard with local emergency authorities to mitigate the impacts of this release on the surrounding communities and to the environment.’”
The company also said it was sending its North American Regional Response Team to the area to help with cleanup work, and that state and federal authorities had been alerted to the spill from the pipe belonging to the ExxonMobil Pipeline Company.
Peters told reporters that the river where the leak occurred is about 250 yards wide, and that early Saturday morning an oil slick appeared to be about 20 feet wide.
Thanks to record rainfall and melting mountain snowpack, the damaged pipeline is currently buried under the raging waters of the Yellowstone River at flood stage (NPR). Authorities suspect that debris caught up in the fast-flowing waters may have gouged the pipe, causing the spill.
Image Credit: Flickr – Neubie