On Wednesday, officials announced that Exxon Mobil Corp. would pay $12 million in damages caused by a break in one of the company’s pipelines. Attorney General Tim Fox, Gov. Steve Bullock, and reps from the Justice Department were all present at the site of the break for the announcement.
In 2011, nearly 63,000 gallons of crude oil bled into the Yellowstone River in Montana which sparked a discussion over laidback pipeline safety procedures.
Court approval is still pending, but the sum stands to settle claims from both state and U.S. governments. They claim that the 2011 oil spill damaged natural resources as it flowed across the Yellowstone River for 85 miles. The break in the 20-year-old pipeline allegedly killed wildlife and fish near the town of Laurel and required a full month of cleanup.
An investigation by the U.S. Transportation Department revealed Exxon employees ignored several warnings that the pipeline was at risk for flooding.
“All of us as Montanans lost something when that spill occurred,” said Bullock at the break site near Laurel, “This money is to make sure not just that we’re compensated but the pelicans are where they should be, the fish are where they should be.”
According to the Assistant U.S. Attorney General, John Cruden, restoration of the river is not over. “We’re going to work to bring the river back to where it would have been but for that spill event,” said Cruden.
Attorney General Fox stated that roughly $4.7 million of the sum will go to channel and shoreline improvement and restoration. Wildlife habitat restoration will be allotted $3.5 million, funds to improve recreational access will total to $2.4 million. $900,000 will go to restoration planning and $400,000 will be used to improve white pelican breeding regions, said Fox. In all, the state of Montana will receive $9.5 million and the remaining $2.5 million will be awarded to the federal government.
Previously, Exxon reported spending $135 million on repair work and cleanup. The company has also paid out $2.6 million for violations against federal safety and state pollution.
Ashley Smith Alemayehu, Exxon spokesperson, said in a statement that the company’s settlement, “an adequate resolution to restore, rehabilitate and or replace injured natural resources and services to pre-spill conditions.”
Exxon’s penalty fees for violations against the Clean Water Act originating from the 2011 spill have yet to be collected. A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency, Richard Mylott, said that an investigation by the agency is still ongoing.
The spill incited a debate over the effectiveness of the safety guidelines in place for thousands of pipelines that lie below lakes, rivers, and other bodies of water. Several of the pipelines were constructed years ago in shallow trenches that can be exposed during floods.
Since the oil spill, companies like Exxon have reinstalled pipelines at even further below than before to lower the threat of another accident. Presently, there are no mandates in place that require pipelines be buried deeply in the ground. Another shallow pipeline suffered a break in January 2015 that leaked 30,000 gallons into the Yellowstone River near Glendive. Glendive is further downstream than Laurel.
A decree that outlines the terms of the deal awaits filing in the U.S. District Court of Montana. The settlement will be confirmed and finalized following a 30-day public comment period and subsequent court approval.