An Exxon Mobil pipeline ruptured on Friday night about 150 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park near the town of Laurel, Montana, dumping up to 1,000 barrels of crude oil into the flood-swollen river fouling the riverbank and forcing water intakes downstream to be closed.
Latest reports show that the oil has spread at least 15 miles beyond the initial leak, largely in part due to the flooding river, which is thwarting clean-up crews’ efforts to reach the break in the 12-inch pipeline.
Besides emitting toxic fumes that have sent multiple people to the hospital, the oil spill has also wreaked havoc on ranching and farming operations that are greatly dependent on the Yellowstone river for their source of irrigation and drinking water.
One Montana farmer, Cathy Williams, explained that the flooding has washed oil across the majority of her 800 acre property preventing livestock from feeding on the now contaminated grasslands.
“It was the night the river peaked, so the river water was flooded all over the place, and that brought oil all over both ranches,” said Mrs Williams. “All of our grasslands … have just thick, black crude stuck to all the grass, trees, low lands.”
While the official cause of the rupture is unknown at this time, possible damage from erosion caused by unusually heavy river flows following a spring of heavy rains and runoff from record mountain snows are speculated to be likely factors.