Does the Yellowstone River Oil Spill Foreshadow the Future if Keystone XL is Approved?

“Suddenly at our house there was a definite smell. It was a diesel smell,” Gerald Reichert, member of the city council of Glendive, Mont., said on January 19. He told the Grand Forks Herald that he didn’t believe the reports of odors coming from residents’ taps until he smelled it in his own home.

Where was this foul odor coming from?

In what many are taking to be a foreshadow of the possible consequences if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved, an estimated 40,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from a pipeline into Montana’s Yellowstone River on January 17.

The spill occurred after a break in the Poplar Pipeline, which carries crude oil from Bakken basin in Canada to Baker, Mont. It has now been shut down. The pipeline was last inspected in 2012 and is at least eight feet below the Yellowstone River bed, where it crosses the river near Glendive.

Yes, there are already several oil pipelines that run from Canada to the U.S.

Initial tests of the city’s water supply didn’t reveal traces of oil, but residents began reporting an unusual odor coming from their taps Sunday night, January 18. Montana Governor Steve Bullock declared a state of emergency Monday morning in Dawson and Richland counties.

Late Monday night, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed that the oil had reached the drinking water supply of the town, which is home to about 5,000 people. Officials advised Glendive residents not to drink or cook with their tap water. “The initial results of samples taken from the City of Glendive’s drinking water system indicate the presence of hydrocarbons at elevated levels, and water intakes in the river have been closed,” the EPA said in a statement.

Bridger Pipeline, which owns the Poplar Pipeline, committed to bringing water into the city every day until the water system is free of oil. On Thursday, the EPA said residents could resume using their tap water.

Earlier Disasters on the Yellowstone

Montana’s Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river left in the 48 contiguous states. It is a beautiful national treasure, tumbling out of Yellowstone Park, the nation’s oldest national park, until it joins the Missouri River 671 miles downstream. Sadly, it is a river already poisoned and diminished by mining pollution from the 19th century.

This is not the first time the river has been threatened by oil spills: in 2011, ExxonMobil’s Silvertip Pipeline, which was buried below the Yellowstone River, broke, spilling more than 63,000 gallons of oil into the river.

There have also been plenty of incidences of spills causing water contamination over the past year. Last August, more than a million gallons of mining waste spilled into rivers and creeks in British Columbia after a tailings pond breach, causing water-use bans to be implemented for thousands of people.

August 2014 also saw a toxic algae bloom that contaminated the water of 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio. Perhaps you also remember January 2014, when 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM, a chemical used by the coal industry, spilled into the Elk River in West Virginia, endangering the water supply for around 300,000 people.

All this has people worried about the Keystone XL pipeline, and the many environmental dangers it would bring.

The Keystone Pipeline Today

Will the 1,179-mile pipeline, first proposed in 2008, which would carry an estimated 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil from Canada into the United States, actually be constructed?

The answer, and the fate of the $8 billion project, depends on what happens in Congress, the courts, the White House and with TransCanada, the company planning to build it.

What we do know is that last April thousands of citizen activists converged on the National Mall in Washington for a week of “Reject and Protect” rallies against the project. On November 18, by a single vote, the U.S. Senate stopped legislation that would have approved construction of the pipeline.

The House this month passed legislation approving the pipeline’s construction for the tenth time. Identical legislation cleared an initial hurdle in the Senate, where a 63-32 vote was three more than the 60 required, but not enough to override a veto.

The Senate is now considering dozens of amendments. This week it approved, by 98-1, a measure saying climate change is real, but Republicans refused to back two others that said human beings contributed to the problem.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s remarks about the pipeline have become increasingly negative in recent months, raising the hope that he might reject the pipeline outright. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama urged Congress to “set our sights higher than a single oil pipeline.”

We will see how this unfolds, but until then, the residents of Glendive, Mont., now know first-hand what a crude oil spill smells and tastes like, and they are not in favor.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus3 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Angela K.
Angela K3 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Eric Lees
Eric Lees4 years ago

The keystone pipeline is just one pipeline and one way of transporting the oil. As long as there is demand the oil will still flow, if not by pipeline then by rail.

So why has this one means of transporting the oil became the battleground?

"Fires burned for hours after a train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derailed in a snowstorm in West Virginia, sending a fireball into the sky and threatening the water supply of nearby residents, authorities and residents said Tuesday."

Patti Ruocco
Patti Ruocco4 years ago

Foreshadowing?? Its a screaming warning!! We ignore it at the peril of the entire nation--and you KNOW that the companies won't be held responsible for the spills that are guaranteed to come....

Jennifer H.
Jennifer H4 years ago

Just disgusting how irresponsible people can be when money is involved.

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B4 years ago

No to Keystone XL - it's just a disaster waiting to happen!

Angela Roquemore
Angela Roquemore4 years ago

Joan E.: Or merely lacking common sense, which is even WORSE than being brainwashed by Faux "News."

Joan E.
Joan E4 years ago

How much foreshadowing do we need? We're in the middle of an existential disaster right now, and anyone who doesn't see it is either lacking in memory and perception or brainwashed by Fox News.


Thank you