Montana residents in Glendive were without safe drinking water for almost a week after a pipeline breach leaked oil into the Yellowstone River, Saturday, Jan. 17, 2015. However, by Friday, Jan. 23, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) approved the water supplies as fit for human consumption again. Officials confirm that the carcinogenic, cancer-causing benzene contamination is cleared up and the water is actually cleaner than it was before the spill.
A rupture in the Poplar Pipeline, which delivers about 42,000 gallons of oil every day, dumped in excess of 40,000 gallons of oil into the nearby river week before last, contaminating the town’s water supplies with three times the federal safe limit of benzene, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (EPA) The first sign of trouble came on Sunday when some residents’ dogs refused to drink their water and began eating snow. Montana officials warned people that they could bathe in the water but not drink it or use it for cooking.
The small town of 6,000 citizens in eastern Montana had to rely on bottled drinking water, provided by Bridger Pipeline, LLC, owners of the burst pipeline, for six days while officials tested the water to determine when the benzene levels had dropped enough to make it safe to drink again. Last Friday, they confirmed that the contamination had washed away and left the water clean and fit to drink. Residents were warned to run their taps for at least 20 minutes to flush out the buildup and debris before resuming normal use again. One local woman, Roseann Koepke reports that upon receiving the news from her landlord, she attempted to follow the instructions, but the smell of oil was so strong in her trailer home after 10 minutes that she got a headache and had to turn them off and open the doors to air out the smell.
The contaminated water received chemical treatments and the Montana DEQ certifies that the field tests done on Thursday at the water plant corroborate Friday’s confirmation by independent lab results that the town’s municipal waters now measure a lower benzene level even than before the spill. Some residents reported black and brown sludge emitting from their faucets while being flushed. The EPA examined the materials, determined that it was only sedimentary build up from the prolonged week of disuse and reaffirmed the water’s cleanliness and safety. Officials are not sure how many residents are experiencing the debris problem, but they advised those who are still seeing debris flow from their pipes to continue running the water and rinsing out the sediment until it runs clear.
The cause of the pipeline rupture remains undetermined. Nevertheless, Bridger has shut it down until further notice. They plan to replace it and bury the new pipe deeper to avoid a recurrence of this accident. Cleanup efforts are still in progress, with 240 spilled barrels recovered so far. Workers are laboring tirelessly, but the going is slow because of the oil trapped beneath ice layers of a frozen Montana winter.
By Tamara Christine Van Hooser