Exxon Mobil Corp. acknowledged under political pressure Monday that the scope of its pipeline leak into the Yellowstone River could extend far beyond a 10-mile stretch of the famed waterway.As the company intensified its cleanup of tens of thousands of gallons of spilled crude, Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. President Gary Pruessing pledged to do "whatever is necessary" to find and mop up oil from the 12-inch pipeline that broke at the bottom of the river over the weekend.
The company earlier had dismissed assertions from state and federal officials that the spill was spread over dozens of miles. That drew sharp criticism from Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer.
On Monday, Pruessing pledged that crews would begin walking the Yellowstone shoreline as soon as the flooding river recedes to look for pooled oil along the banks.
"We’re not limiting the scope of our cleanup to the immediate site," Pruessing said at a news conference along the river near Laurel, as crews mopped up oil in the background. "We are not trying to suggest in any way that that’s the limit of exposure."
Underscoring rising anger over the spill among some riverfront property owners, Pruessing was confronted after his news conference by a goat farmer and environmental activist who said his partner was sickened by oil fumes and had to be taken to the emergency room.
"I need to know what we’ve been exposed to. People are sick now," Mike Scott said. Scott’s partner, Alexis Bonogofsky, was diagnosed Monday with acute hydrocarbon exposure after she experienced dizziness, nausea and trouble breathing, he said.
Pruessing said air and water monitoring had not revealed any health risks. But he told Scott the company would provide the public with more information.
Exxon Mobil has estimated that up to 1,000 barrels, or 42,000 gallons, of crude oil spilled Friday night before the flow from the damaged pipeline was stopped. The break near Laurel has fouled miles of riverbank, although high water has hobbled attempts to find where all the oil went.
Montana’s Disaster and Emergency Services Division was unable to give an update on the spill Monday, and Environmental Protection Agency officials also could not immediately provide any new information.
The 20-year-old Silvertip pipeline delivered 40,000 barrels a day to a refinery in Billings along a route that passes beneath the river.
The line was temporarily shut down in May after Laurel officials raised concerns that it could be at risk as the Yellowstone started to rise. And regulators twice in the last year warned Exxon Mobil of several safety violations along the line.
The company decided to restart the line after examining its safety record and deciding it was safe, Pruessing said.