Jul 2, 2011 11:51 PM by Amanda Venegas (KTVQ Billings)
BILLINGS - A Montana Disaster and Emergency Services official says as of Saturday afternoon, ExxonMobil officials were estimating that 750 to 1,000 barrels of unrefined crude oil had been spilled into the Yellowstone River after a break in an underground line near Laurel.
Spokesman Tim Thennis says the number was an "early ballpark figure". But, if estimates are true, that means about 31,000 to 42,000 gallons of oil has been racing through the already high and fast-moving Yellowstone River.
The oil spread Friday evening at 11:30 p.m. from the town of Laurel to Hysham about 100 miles east on Saturday afternoon. Thennis says the state is keeping in touch with local Disaster and Emergency Service coordinators throughout southcentral and southeastern Montana. He says officials are monitoring how far the oil is going down the Yellowstone.
With the recent floodwaters the state has had, Thennis says the fast river current could make it difficult for crews to catch and clean up the oil. Thennis says crews will be able to clean up the shoreline, but the moving water is a concern.
Another major worry is the Missouri River because if the sludge rides down the Yellowstone far enough, it could meet up with the Missouri since it is a tributary of the river. Thennis says if that happens, emergency crews would have significant issues cleaning the spill.
Saturday evening, Thennis says officials with the Environmental Protection Agency were set to arrive in Billings and set up a unified command with ExxonMobil.
As of 9 p.m. on Saturday, ExxonMobil spokeswoman Pam Marek said the company did not have a statement on how the leak started and how far it had gone.
At this time, several agencies have been contacted regarding the oil spill including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, North Dakota Disaster and Emergency Management, U.S. Coast Guard, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks, National Response Center (for incidents involving Hazardous Materials),and PPL Montana.