Montana to conduct assessment, seek natural resources damages for 2015 Yellowstone River oil spill

A crowd of people gather around the broken pipe that led to oil spilling into the Yellowstone River.

Photo courtesy of Glendive Ranger Review

Attorney General Tim Fox, Governor Steve Bullock, and the U.S. Department of the Interior announced today the decision to actively pursue potential recovery of natural resource damages from Bridger Pipeline, LLC. The Governor of Montana and DOI are the trustees for natural resources injured by the 2015 Yellowstone River oil spill. The Governor is represented by the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, an entity within the Montana Department of Justice. 

These damages would be sought under the federal Oil Pollution Act and State law for injuries to natural resources resulting from the oil spill. The decision is formally set forth in yesterday’s issuance of the “Notice of Intent to Conduct Restoration Planning – Jan. 2015, Yellowstone River Oil Spill.” Copies of this notice are available at the State and Federal contacts and on the internet sites below.

On Jan. 17, 2015, a 12-inch diameter pipeline owned by Bridger crossing the Yellowstone River near Glendive ruptured and discharged at least 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil into the river. Ice on the Yellowstone River prevented cleanup of most of the oil. The oil remained in the river from Jan. 17, 2015, through at least the time that the ice started to break up in mid-March 2015. The oil also caused exceedances of water quality standards in the river. Oil was found on the shoreline through early April 2015. The limited cleanup was performed and funded by Bridger, with primary oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

“As important as the production and transportation of oil and petroleum products is to our State, when the accidental release of oil taints our natural resources, it is equally important that we understand the extent of the damage and that the resources are restored,” Attorney General Tim Fox said. “This is a critical step in making sure that restoration happens. I appreciate the hard work by the state and federal teams who responded to the spill initially and who will be carrying forward the damages assessment now, and for the cooperation of the pipeline operator in these efforts.”

Based upon an initial investigation, the State and DOI have now made a determination that both the discharged oil and the activities to clean up the oil may have caused injuries to the public’s natural resources, including fish (including the federally listed endangered pallid sturgeon) and other aquatic organisms, birds (including migratory birds), wildlife, surface water and riverine aquatic habitat and supported biota, terrestrial habitat, shoreline habitat and supported biota adjacent to the river, and the services provided by these natural resources.

As a result of this determination and the issuance of the NOI, the Trustees will begin to more specifically assess and quantify the injuries to natural resources and loss of human uses, and determine the compensation they may seek from Bridger for causing natural resource damages. Following the assessment, the Trustees will prepare a restoration plan that will describe natural resource projects to restore the injured resources. The public will have the opportunity for review and comment on the assessment of natural resource injuries and the restoration plan prior to its finalization.

For more information, contact Beau Downing or Harley Harris at the Montana Department of Justice’s Natural Resource Damage Program at (406) 444-0205 or Ryan Moehring at the United States Fish and Wildlife Service at (303) 236-0345.

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