$12M Deal Reached in Exxon Yellowstone Spill

     BILLINGS, Mont. (CN) — The Justice Department said Tuesday that Exxon Mobil has agreed to pay $12 million to the federal government and the state of Montana over a 2011 pipeline rupture that spewed more than 63,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.
     Exxon’s 12-inch diameter Silvertip pipeline ruptured on July 1, 2011, near Laurel, Montana, upstream from Billings, discharging oil into the river and its floodplain for approximately 85 miles. The spill killed fish and wildlife, and promped cleanup efforts that lasted for months.
     The rupture is said to have happened during a “high-flow event.”
     Montana and the federal government, on behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Department of the Interior, sued Exxon under the Oil Pollution Act and Montana’s Environmental Cleanup and Responsibility Act. They sought damages for “injury to, destruction of, and loss of natural resources resulting from the Silvertip Spill, including the unreimbursed past, present and future costs of assessing such damages, the cost of restoring, replacing and/or acquiring the equivalent of those injured resources.”
     Exxon has reportedly spent over $135 million in cleanup efforts and repair work to the pipeline.
     “Montanans deserve and expect ExxonMobil Pipeline Company to be held accountable for the damages they caused to Montana’s Yellowstone River, our communities and our economy,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock 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.”
     The proposed settlement is part of a consent decree filed Wednesday morning in Federal Court in Billings.
     James Freeman, senior attorney for the Justice Department’s Environmental Enforcement Section, said state and federal officials have developed and issued a draft restoration plan that outlines proposed actions to restore the river and wildlife habitat affected by the spill.
     “The state and federal government have natural resource trustees who keep track and monitor injuries to resources,” Freeman told Courthouse News. “They work together on a plan that will compensate for the injury caused by the spill.”
     The proposed settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period following notification in the Federal Register and final approval by a federal judge.
     Those wishing to view the consent decree or submit comment can visit the DOJ’s website.
     In addition, the trustees will host a public meeting to summarize key components of the restoration plan and to hear public comment on Oct. 12 at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks conference room in Billings.
     “This proposed settlement will restore this great natural resource for the people and the environment of Montana and its benefits will flow for generations to come,” said U.S. Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden. “This agreement will require Exxon Mobil Pipeline Company to make this river — upon which both people and wildlife depend for enjoyment and sustenance — whole again.”

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