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Pipeline companies to pay more than $12.5 million for spills in Montana, N.D.

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By Daily Montanan Staff DAILY MONTANAN

Belle Fourche Pipeline Company and Bridger Pipeline LLC – affiliated companies that own and operate a network of crude oil pipelines in Montana North Dakota, and Wyoming – have agreed to pay a $12.5 million civil penalty to resolve claims under the Clean Water Act and Pipeline Safety Laws relating to oil spills in Montana and North Dakota, according to a news release Monday.

“These spills impacted iconic Western watersheds that communities in Montana and North Dakota depend upon,” said EPA Regional Administrator KC Becker in a statement.  “EPA will continue to hold companies accountable for spills that threaten human health, drinking water, recreation and fisheries and ensure they take meaningful measures to prevent future incidents.”

In 2015, Bridger’s Poplar Pipeline ruptured where it crosses under the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana. The pipeline crossing had been installed using the “trench-cut” method. The pipeline failed after being exposed due to river scour. Bridger has completed its cleanup of the Montana spill site, and Bridger and the State of Montana separately resolved claims under Montana state law.

Belle Fourche’s Bicentennial Pipeline ruptured in 2016 in Billings County, North Dakota. The pipeline traversed a steep hillside above an unnamed tributary to Ash Coulee Creek – which feeds into the Little Missouri River – when the slope failed. The size of the North Dakota spill was exacerbated by Belle Fourche’s failure to detect the spill until it was reported by a local landowner. Belle Fourche’s cleanup of the North Dakota spill site is ongoing with oversight by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. The State of North Dakota is a co-plaintiff in this case, and it has worked closely with the United States; both are signatories to the consent decree.

“Through this settlement, we are furthering North Dakota’s twin objectives of safe energy development and protection of our environment,” said Attorney General Drew Wrigley of North Dakota. “I want to especially thank the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality staff who spent countless hours investigating and responding to the spill.”

In addition to the $12.5 million civil penalty, the companies are required to implement compliance measures including meeting certain control-room operation requirements and related employee training, implementing their water crossings and geotechnical evaluation programs and updating their integrity management program.

Belle Fourche will also pay the state of North Dakota’s past response costs.

The case is being litigated by the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Enforcement Section, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, EPA, PHMSA and the State of North Dakota.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Under section 7003(d) of RCRA, a commenter may request an opportunity for a public meeting in the affected area.

The consent decree will be available for viewing on the Department of Justice website.

“As the longest free-flowing river in the Lower 48, the Yellowstone River not only is a national treasure for its historic significance, ecosystems and recreational opportunities, but it also is an important economic resource for communities along its banks and the state of Montana,” said U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District of Montana. “It is essential for pipeline companies operating in and around our rivers to comply with environmental protection and public safety regulations. This agreement holds these companies accountable for their significant oil spills, and more importantly, will help protect the iconic Yellowstone River from future damage.”

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