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Governor Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox Announce $12 Million Settlement for Natural Resource Damage from 2011 Yellowstone River Oil Spill

Wednesday, September 21, 2016/Categories: Governor's Office/Tags:

Laurel, Mont.- Governor Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of the Interior today announced a proposed settlement with ExxonMobil Pipeline Company to resolve claims stemming from the Yellowstone River July 1, 2011 oil spill.  ExxonMobil Pipeline Company has agreed to pay $12 million in natural resource damages to the federal government and the State of Montana as Trustees for the natural resources devastated by the spill. A proposed consent decree was filed in federal court today. The State and federal government have also issued a draft restoration plan that will take action to address the natural resource damage.

“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,” said Governor Bullock.  “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.“

Attorney General Tim Fox added, “This proposed settlement was reached through the efforts of the Montana Department of Justice’s Natural Resource Damage Program and the U.S. Departments of Justice and the Interior.  Under a joint State-Federal restoration plan, also issued today for public comment, these funds will be used to restore and improve the environmental and recreational resources of this great river.”

“This settlement is an important part of the work being done to ensure that the 2.7 million miles of oil, gas, and liquid chemical pipeline in this country remain safe, and that when incidents occur, the operators assume responsibility for cleanup,” said U.S. Attorney Mike Cotter.  “This settlement was the product of significant collaborative work by federal and state negotiators over a number of years, and sends a strong message to operators in this field that they must assume the costs and risks, as well as reaping the benefits, of extracting natural resources.”

“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 Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “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.”  The State and federal government are seeking public comment on both the proposed consent decree and the draft restoration plan.

On July 1, 2011, a 12-inch diameter pipeline (Silvertip Pipeline) owned by ExxonMobil Pipeline Company ruptured near Laurel, Montana, resulting in the discharge of crude oil into the Yellowstone River and floodplain.  The discharge is estimated to have been approximately 63,000 gallons (about 1,500 barrels) of oil. The discharge occurred during a high-flow event, affecting approximately 85 river miles and associated floodplain.  Oil from the spill, along with the cleanup activities, harmed natural resources including fish and other aquatic life, birds (including migratory birds), wildlife, large woody debris piles, aquatic habitat, terrestrial habitat, recreational use, and the services provided by these natural resources. These public natural resources are under Trusteeship of the State of Montana and the U.S. Department of the Interior under the Oil Pollution Act and other laws.

The Trustees evaluated a range of restoration alternatives that would provide resource services to compensate the public for losses pending natural recovery of resources injured by the oil spill. The Trustees have identified preferred restoration alternatives designed to address the resource injuries. The Trustees plan to work with project partners such as local, state, and federal agencies and nonprofit organizations and landowners to implement the projects.

The draft restoration plan is available online at https://dojmt.gov/lands/yellowstone-river-oil-spill-July-2011/ and by request at the address below. The public comment period on the draft restoration plan will close at 5:00 PM on  Monday, October 31, 2016.  Written comments on the draft restoration plan should be sent via e-mail to:  NRDP@mt.gov with “Yellowstone restoration plan comment” in the subject line.

Or by U.S. mail to:     Natural Resource Damage Program

                                    PO Box 201425

                                    Helena, MT 59620-1425

The Trustees will host a public meeting to summarize key components of the restoration plan and receive oral comment. The public meeting will be held on Wednesday, October 12, at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks conference room at 2300 Lake Elmo Drive in Billings, from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM. The Trustees will review and consider comments received during the public comment period when preparing the final restoration plan.

Today’s proposed settlement, lodged with the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period following notification in the Federal Register and final approval by the court.  To view the consent decree or to submit a comment, visit the department’s website: www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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