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Yellowstone River Oil Spill (January 2015)


On January 17, 2015, the Poplar Pipeline, which is owned and operated by Bridger Pipeline, LLC, of Casper, Wyoming, discharged at least 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil into the Yellowstone River just upstream of Glendive, Montana. At the time of the discharge, the Yellowstone River and its shoreline were experiencing winter conditions and were covered partially in ice and snow. The resulting crude oil spill entered the Yellowstone River and continues to adversely affect and threaten natural resources within the jurisdictions of the United States and the State of Montana.

Oil sheen was reported at least as far downstream as Crane, Montana (59 river miles downstream from the pipeline crossing). (POLREP #12, USEPA, 2015). Ice on the Yellowstone River prevented cleanup of most of the oil. The oil remained in the river from January 17, 2015 through at least the time that the ice started to break up in mid-March 2015. During some or all of this time period, oil was present in the Yellowstone River throughout the water column. A second phase of the release occurred in mid-March during ice-out (i.e., the time that the ice began to break up during spring thaw). Oil was found on the shoreline through early April 2015. The oil caused exceedances of surface water quality standards contained in Montana’s “Circular DEQ-7 Montana Numeric Water Quality Standards” in the Yellowstone River.

The State of Montana and United States Intend to Seek Natural Resource Damages for the January 2015 Bridger Pipeline, LLC, Yellowstone River Oil Spill

Notice of Intent to Conduct Restoration Planning

Governor Steve Bullock, Attorney General Tim Fox, and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)  announced the decision to actively pursue recovery of natural resource damages for the 2015 Bridger Pipeline, LLC, Yellowstone River Oil Spill. This decision is set forth in the “Notice of Intent to Conduct Restoration Planning – January 2015, Yellowstone River Oil Spill” (NOI). The Governor of the State of Montana and DOI are the trustees for natural resources injured by the 2015 Yellowstone River Oil Spill. The Governor is represented by the Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, an entity within the Montana Department of Justice. The trustees have determined that Bridger Pipeline, LLC is the statutorily responsible party for payment of the natural resource damages resulting from the oil spill. The NOI is available from the State and Federal trustee contacts and the link above.

As outlined in the NOI, based upon a preliminary investigation, the State and DOI have determined that the oil may have caused injuries to natural resources, including fish (including the federally listed endangered pallid sturgeon) and other aquatic organisms, birds (including migratory birds), wildlife, surface water and riverine aquatic habitat and supported biota, terrestrial habitat, shoreline habitat and supported biota adjacent to the river, and the services provided by these natural resources.

The trustees will begin to more specifically assess and quantify the injuries to these resources and lost uses, and evaluate restoration alternatives. Following the assessment, the trustees will prepare a restoration plan, which will be subject to public comment.

Partial Claim for Past and Future Assessment Costs

The Trustees sent a Partial Claim for Past and Future Assessment Costs (Partial Claim) to Bridger on March 16, 2017 for: (1) past and future assessment costs related to the restoration planning phase; (2) a model-based assessment procedure related to bird injury; and (3) a laboratory-based assessment procedure related to fish injury.  The Trustees provided Bridger 90 days to consider the Partial Claim and Bridger declined to make payment on June 14, 2017.  The Trustees presented the Partial Claim to the U.S. Coast Guard National Pollution Fund Center (NPFC) for funding.

Sampling  Data and Photos

Sampling data, field notes, and photos can be viewed and downloaded by clicking the link above.

U.S. DOI Website
For More Information Contact

Ryan Moehring, USFWS, Lakewood, CO, (303) 236-0345; Beau Downing or Harley Harris, NRDP, Helena, MT, (406) 444-0205