An Exxon Mobil Corp. unit has agreed to pay the federal government and state of Montana $12 million to settle claims arising from a 2011 pipeline rupture that spilled tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. The funds would be used for habitat restoration and other projects along the river.
The terms of the settlement, which federal and state officials announced on Sept. 21, are spelled out in a proposed consent decree filed in U.S. District Court in Billings, Mont., the same day.
Government officials said that on July 1, 2011, an Exxon Mobil Pipeline Corp. 12-in-diameter pipeline broke near Laurel, Mont.—about 16 miles southwest of Billings—discharging an estimated 63,000 gal. of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and its floodplain.
The spill and ensuing cleanup work hurt fish, birds, wildlife and their habitat, the agencies said. Under the Oil Pollution Act and other statutes, the land and natural resources fall under the trusteeship of Montana and the federal Dept. of the Interior.
According to the consent decree, Exxon Mobil carried out cleanup work after the spill, following a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrative order and an agreement between the company and the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality.
The company also reimbursed the federal and state trustees about $1.6 million for their environmental assessment costs.
Ashley Smith Alemayehu, an Exxon Mobil spokesperson, said via email : “We believe the settlement represents an adequate resolution to restore, rehabilitate or replace injured natural resources and services to pre-spill conditions, consistent with the National Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration process.”
In the consent decree, the company did not admit to the allegations it contains and also did not admit any liability from the alleged actions.
Interior and Montana have issued a draft restoration plan, specifying how the $12 million would be used.
Of the total, $2.6 million would go for work on aquatic habitat, including restoring fish passage in the river’s tributaries; removing riprap and side channel blockages; and soft river bank stabilization.
The plan also proposes to use $2.4 million for improvements to recreational facilities, including boat launches; a hiking and biking trail; parks and a pond.
The consent decree is subject to the federal court’s approval.
Exxon Mobil’s Alemayehu said, “We regret this spill happened and are committed to learning from it to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.”
She added, “We believe the procedures and training we had in place at the time of the flood complied with federal regulations; however, we have modified them consistent with our objective of continuous improvement.”
John C. Cruden, assistant attorney general in charge of the environment and natural resources division, said in a statement, “ This agreement will require Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. to make this river—upon which both people and wildlife depend for enjoyment and sustenance—whole again.”
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D) said in a statement, “This proposed settlement goes a long way in protecting Montana’s Yellowstone River, one of the last, great, free-flowing rivers in the United States that plays a vital role in our strong $6-billion outdoor economy.”