Montana governor wants PHMSA to beef up pipeline enforcement in state

Citing a Jan. 17 leak of 1,200 bbl of crude oil from a ruptured pipeline in eastern Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) asked US Sec. of Transportation Anthony Foxx to send more pipeline inspectors to the state and schedule more inspections there.

Citing a Jan. 17 leak of 1,200 bbl of crude oil from a ruptured pipeline in eastern Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) asked US Sec. of Transportation Anthony Foxx to send more pipeline inspectors to the state and schedule more inspections there.

“Oil spills in Montana’s rivers are unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Bullock said in his Feb. 13 letter to the secretary. “As governor, I am working to ensure that those responsible for these spills are held accountable, the environment is cleaned up to our standards, and that we do everything we can to avoid another oil spill into Montana waters.”

The leak from Bridger Pipeline LLC’s Poplar Pipeline near Glendive came nearly 4 years after ExxonMobil Pipeline Co.’s Silvertip crude pipeline ruptured on July 1, 2011, and spilled 750-1,000 bbl into the same river (OGJ Online, July 14, 2011).

About 548 bbl has been recovered so far from the Poplar line’s release, but cold weather is limiting the ability of crews to recover additional oil, Bridger Pipeline spokesman Bill Salvin said. “We are staging resources so that when conditions are right, we can respond quickly,” he told OGJ on Feb. 17.

In his letter, Bullock asked Foxx to instruct the US Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to reevaluate its inspection schedule and appropriate depth of cover requirements so inspections would occur more frequently and deeper minimum cover depths would be required for pipelines passing under Montana rivers.

The governor also has asked Foxx to do the following:

• Direct PHMSA to base additional pipeline inspectors in Montana with a priority of inspecting the 3,800 miles of pipelines in the state for which the agency is responsible.

• Compile and report to Bullock’s office a list of all oil pipelines PHMSA regulates in Montana, including data on pipeline ownership, age, depth of cover, whether the pipeline has been horizontally directionally drilled, latest PHMSA and company inspection reports, and future PHMSA and company inspection schedules for the next 2 years.

• Provide professional technical assistance to Montana so that as the state considers granting easements, it has the best science to impose protective conditions for pipeline river crossings.

• Direct PHMSA to take the necessary steps to improve timely and comprehensive sharing of information with the state, specifically the Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

In a separate memo, as he cited the two pipeline leaks that have spilled crude oil into the Yellowstone River in the past 4 years, Bullock instructed the directors of Montana’s Natural Resources and Conservation, Environmental Quality, and Fish, Wildlife & Parks Departments to review and determine the state’s authority to place conditions on the siting of both existing and future easements for pipelines which cross navigable waters in the state.

The governor asked the agencies’ directors to submit their findings by Feb. 25.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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