GLENDIVE, Mont. - The threat of oil chemicals in Glendive’s drinking water will likely be resolved Thursday after an oil pipeline break in the Yellowstone River last Saturday.
Workers spent Wednesday blowing contaminated water out of Glendive fire hydrants, testing discharge for contamination as they went. If all goes well, Glendive’s 6,000 residents will be asked to open their taps Thursday to bleed the remaining volatile organic compounds from the system. Bleeding the main lines Thursday should prevent more contaminated water from pushing through home water pipes, said Paul Peronard of the Environmental Protection Agency.
“What we need to do is get the dirty water out of the distribution line so when we open the taps, it’s clean water pushing in,” Peronard said.
Extra filtration equipment has been added to the treatment plant, which stopped drawing water from the river Monday after tests validated community concerns that oil from Saturday’s pipeline break was being drawn into the town drinking water.
Locals reported smelling and tasting oil in their drinking water roughly 24 hours after the Bridger Pipeline broke beneath the Yellowstone River six miles upstream from Glendive.
The cancer-causing chemical compound benzene was detected in the water at 15 parts per billion, a level three times higher than the safety threshold for those regularly consuming the water.
Residents have each been given two gallons of uncontaminated water per day, while cleanup crews worked to upgrade and decontaminate the plant, though water has continued to flow through taps. The city began drawing water from the river Tuesday to maintain enough pressure in its pipes for firefighting, according to Jeni Flatow of the state Department of Environmental Quality.
State and federal officials say benzene from the river shouldn't be a lingering problem. The chemical compound doesn't normally cling to solids, which makes it unlikely benzene will stick to soil and plants along the river. The benzene should begin to evaporate, even at cool temperatures.
On the mostly ice-capped Yellowstone, cleanup crews located open water roughly three miles downstream from the pipeline break. There, workers began sucking oil from the river Wednesday. Crews also located crude trapped in pockets beneath the ice.
Bridger Pipeline spokesman Bill Salvin said about 630 of the 40,000 gallons leaked from the pipeline have been recovered.
There are still many unknowns about the pipeline break, now five days old.
Officials still don’t know if the pipeline was fully exposed on the river bottom and vulnerable to puncture when the break occurred. The last time Bridger determined the pipeline was safely covered with soil was 2012, Salvin said. It was believed then that the pipeline was at least eight feet beneath the river bed, enough cover to be considered safe. However the river is constantly changing.
Meanwhile, oil in the pipeline is being rerouted, Salvin said.
According to an EPA situation report, Bridger Pipeline LLC has already indicated plans to bore a replacement pipe beneath the Yellowstone.
There are 125 people working on spill-related issues.
Bridger Pipeline LLC was able to retrieve 240 barrels of crude oil from the broken 12-inch pipeline.
Dawson County, where the spill is located, and Richland County downstream, were declared a disaster area by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The state is seeking additional federal aid with the cleanup.
Ice on the river has made recovery extremely difficult, said Tom Livers, state Department of Environmental Quality deputy director. Neither the break, nor the oil leaking into the river has been visible from the surface.
Bridger Pipeline earlier estimated the oil spill at 12,600 gallons to 50,000 gallons, based on the 37,800 gallon capacity of the section of broken pipe, plus the 12,600 gallons known to have leaked from the pipeline before emergency valves on either side of the river were closed.
More than 16,000 gallons of bottled drinking water have been trucked to Glendive. The public has been picking up the water at the Eastern Plains Event Center.
Bridger Pipeline staff is at the Dawson County Courthouse in Glendive to answer community questions about the oil spill. The Montana governor's office also has someone at the courthouse to answer questions between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.