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Weather impedes Montana oil spill response

Authorities say response effort itself may be as threatening as the spill.

By Daniel J. Graeber
Montana officials say warmer weather impeding oil spill response efforts in the Yellowstone River. Photo: Bridger Pipelines.
Montana officials say warmer weather impeding oil spill response efforts in the Yellowstone River. Photo: Bridger Pipelines.

GLENDIVE, Mont., Jan. 29 (UPI) -- Warmer weather in Montana has made it difficult to continue recovery efforts from a mid-January oil spill in the Yellowstone River, authorities said.

A unified command responding to a Jan. 17 spill from the Poplar pipeline said about 41 barrels of oil was removed from the Yellowstone River and 490 barrels were pulled from the pipeline itself. An estimated 694 barrels remains unrecovered.

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"The warm weather has created difficult river ice conditions hampering recovery and investigation at the pipeline crossing," authorities said in a late Wednesday statement.

Responders with the unified command said ice coverage on the Yellowstone River is "extensive," but not thick enough to support response efforts. Significant thawing has occurred during the warmer weather and authorities said the response effort "is rapidly approaching the point of diminishing returns."

Given the extent of recovery operations so far, representatives from Montana state agencies said they're concerned that activity may be more damaging to the river system than the spill itself.

Area residents were forced to use bottled water in the immediate aftermath of the spill, though the all-clear was given Jan. 22.

A crew is working on a camera system that would be inserted into the pipeline to determine what led to the breach. A 2011 spill from the Silvertip pipeline, operated by Chevron, was blamed on river scour and responders found the riverbed exposed beneath the Poplar system.

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Poplar operator Bridger Pipeline in 2011 confirmed the pipeline was about 8 feet below the river bed at its shallowest point.

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