By Deb Courson Smith
Goats have a reputation for eating just about anything, but oil-covered grass isn’t on their preferred menu. Alexis Bonogofsky’s family owns Blue Creek Farms along the Yellowstone River south of Billings. Pastures they use for their goats are covered in oil from the Exxon pipeline rupture in the Yellowstone. Flooding pushed oily water over their fields, and state officials have said more flooding could repeat this scenario for hundreds of miles.
Bonogofsky says one of the biggest frustrations is a lack of information from Exxon.
“We’ve been asking, and asking, and asking, ‘What is in this oil? How long does it stay in our soil? How do you remove it? Is our well water at risk?’ They just say, ‘We’ll have someone get back to you on that.’ For an oil company, they apparently don’t know much about oil.”
Clean-up crews are working along the riverbanks on her property and she appreciates their dedication, but because the area is so heavily vegetated, it’s a challenge. Exxon has been deploying crews with blotting sheets to try to soak up oil on the land.
Bonogofsky says the toll on wildlife has yet to be fully considered, and it goes beyond the fish that live in the Yellowstone River.
“Down where there’s oil on our place, there’s no sounds of anything, and usually our place is just full of toads and crickets. In the evening, that’s all you can hear is wildlife, and now you don’t hear anything.”
The economic implications for her family and others go beyond just cleaning up the areas affected, Bonogofsky says, and although she keeps hearing reports that Exxon will “make everything right,” she has doubts those implications will be considered, and she worries that once the story disappears from the national radar, the promises will fade away.
“We have our goats up by our house right now in two pastures that we normally cut for hay, and we can’t cut the hay because we need the grass for the goats. It’s pretty extensive, the damage, and it’s really devastating.”