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Oil Spill In The Yellowstone River

The oil spill in the Yellowstone River and the debate over land use in the American West.

Clean up crews work to collect oil from along side the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana, Monday July 4, 2011. (AP)

Clean up crews work to collect oil from along side the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana, Monday July 4, 2011. (AP)

When it comes to nature and America, you don’t get bigger names than Yellowstone.

Friday night, near Billings, Montana, an Exxon-Mobil oil pipeline under the Yellowstone River burst, near midnight. For nearly an hour, the big pipe poured oil directly into the Yellowstone.

The river is raging right now. At high flood stage.

It has spread that oil far and wide. Now, clean-up crews are all over. The damage is being assessed.

And once again, Americans are facing the full price of oil and energy, as extraction booms in the West.

This hour On Point: we’re going to the Yellowstone.

-Tom Ashbrook


Rob Rogers, reporter, Billings-Gazette. Check out their excellent coverage of the oil spill.

Alexis Bonogofsky, owner of Blue Creek Farms, ten miles from the pipe rupture site. See a slideshow of her oil-covered land.

Brian Schweitzer, governor of Montana.

Jim Jensen, executive director, Montana Environmental Information Center.

Philip Verleger, founder of PkVerleger.

The site of the spill, according to the Billings Gazette.

Approximate location of the oil spill

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  • David Baker

    I worked for years at Buffalo Public Schools with many buildings heated with oil.  For more than 20 years, for both new construction as well as needed repairs, we had to install double walled underground piping.  Sensors would alarm operators if either wall leaked, oil or groundwaterinto the annular space.  Why is not this the necessary design when oil is piped under a river?

  • SangZe

    I find it outrageous that it should be suggested that the defiling of the environment is the necessary price we pay to have oil. Spills like the one corrupting Montana should never happen. Once again, the people suffer because of corporate greed. Worse, in all likelihood, the taxpayers will end up paying for a super-rich private company’s failure. Enough is enough. Wake up, Americans. 

  • Maxabelg

    I was born in rural, agricultural Wyoming and my members of my family come from ranching as well as oil extraction. I spent most of my formative years in rural upstate New York where beautiful farmlands are now threatened by natural gas fracking. As this spill highlights, old-line energy companies and their powerful friends in Washington D.C., in Albany and in other state capitols around the country are dissembling when they proclaim that “modern” fossil fuel extraction is fool-proof and spill-proof. 

    It’s very simple, if you drill, you will spill. 

  • Roger Runnalls

    drill baby drill!!!  and how much does exxon pay in royalties to the US for the privilege of sucking oil out of the ground?  have the royalty charges risen over time to reflect inflation in the cost of energy?  shouldn’t the punitive fines be significant enough to force these despoilers to improve their ecological behavior?  but heaven forbid about taxing those job creators.

  • A. Diggins

    This story is horrifying.  It reminds me of the recent documentary “Gasland” which pointed out VP Cheney’s Energy Taskforce opened up our public lands to oil and natural gas extraction, making these industries immune to the Clean Water Act and other environmental legislation.

    Hope the governor sticks to his guns, but the Bush administration’s erosion of federal environmental regulations might trump his state law, sadly.

  • Julia

    This is one of the most beautiful places in the US.  I’m responding to this by cutting out ALL non-essential car travel, and carpooling whenever I can.  I hope you will too!
    Love your show.

  • ThresherK

    The cynic in me is glad that the name of the river on which it happened is the Yellowstone River, even though it is miles and miles downstream of Yellowstone Park.

    As of this point, I think this story is undercovered, and I think it would be more ignored if it happened in the Podunk River (to name one in my northeastern suburb.)

  • Rossfalzone

    the Truth Has God On its SIde

  • Dh001g

    We can get as mad as we want at Exxon. As long as we fill up our gas tanks every week we are going to sacrifice the livelihoods of our neighbors to our needs. Until we develop cities built around mass transit are going to have these disasters. There is too much money involved to fight the corruption in our public officials it creates. 

    • nj

      Mass transit is good, but not enough. Until we begin to restructure our overall societal food, materials, and energy networks to move away from highly centralized models to more localized ones, we we all continue to be trapped in a system which requires too many of us to fill our gas tanks every week.

      For a model of how to move in this direction, refer to the Transition Town movement:


  • Fgibbard

    would it have been environmentally safer to have built a bridge structure to support the pipeline well above the water?

    • Wiley

      Absolutely! All of the oil pipelines in Alaska are above ground which makes them easy to inspect and easier to contain oil spills.

  • Walter

    Wind and solar make up a miniscule % of electrical needs in the USA. Oil is a transportation fuel, the two shouldn’t equated with one another. I wonder, where is the EPA. I hacve operated some landfill gas pipelines and natural gas pipelines. I wonder why no omne ever points a finger at the bloated, inept EPA hich seems to spend lots of time and resources  making regulations but very little time being the watchdog I always thought it was supposed to be!


  • A. Diggins

    Prediction for the future: oil and gas developers will utterly ruin our streams, lakes and aquifers, then with their wealth will acquire and monopolize a water purification and delivery industry in order to sell Americans an expensive “value added” heretofore plentiful natural resource: potable water.


    • Terry Tree Tree

      GREED conquers all!!!

  • Sik4toyz

    alternative renewables is really not the future; the R&D for nuclear is the future; rebuilding plants with NEW technology is the answer; drilling is not.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Fukushima proves your point!!

  • Sik4toyz

    btw- I don’t think Tom was on top of this story, DO OVER!

  • Akessler

    Can we throw Michelle Bachman in this river?

  • Akessler

    Can we throw Michelle Bachman in this river?

  • Carlo

    The link for this story isn’t working. Can someone from NPR please check?

  • Agus3ln

     There is no link to listen to the story.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roy.cuellar Roy Cuellar

    Ok folks, Fracking is coming to NY and the east … consider the health of the Susquehanna – Chesapeake and the Delaware Watersheds.
    “Drill baby drill” is like chanting for the use of flint over steel. The pace of which the oil-age comes to a close is up to all of us.

    • Waynesboro PA

      Yes, Roy. I heard most of the show and couldn’t help making connections with our “messopotamia” here in Pennsylvania. The refusal of our state government to regulate and tax the extraction of natural gas will come back to haunt us.

  • JimmyKl

    Spills happen

    • Terry Tree Tree

      Especially to multi-$Billionaires that keep DEMANDING LESS REGULATION, and more money, and NO TAXES. 

  • http://www.microsorb.org William E. Baird

    Please see http://www.microsorb.org.  We have microbes that will destroy the oil without destroying the shore lines and wetlands and don’t make hazardous waste like useless absorbents and booms.  We are rated number one on the National Contingency Plan Product list by Dr. Portier of LSU to the BP Biochem Strike Team.

    The techniques being used in Montana are 20 years old and good for harbors, not shorelines and wetlands.  Microbes have been used in China, Japan, Italy and many states.  Approved for use in Lake Michigan.

    William E Baird, PE
    MicroSorb Environmental Solutions, Inc.
    Norwell, MA 02061

  • Janice200

    I recall the article in National Geographic detailing the ravaging of many natural environments in parts of the former USSR. There were horrifying wastelands. I guess the US is going in that direction.
    I don’t know why people complain that the president did not back legislation which might have protected the Yellowstone. The governor and other Montana authorities were already there.
    Hello again, EXXON.

  • Celine

    I hear better discussion of major issues on this show than on almost any other.  The host and recent guest host appear to have the common good in the backs of their minds.  A rare and valuable trait.  Thank you, On Point.

  • troll doll

    Thanks for hosting this show. It was really informative and hearing the perspective of Alexis Bonogofsky and all the guests was really eye opening. The energy companies are making a real mess of where we live and this needs to change now.

    Unfortunately no other news organizatons seem to think this is front page news.

    BIg Ups to the producers of this show.

  • William

    Pretty minor spill…much to do about nothing.

    • Clfogg

      To bad it isn’t in your backyard.  

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