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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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DEQ fines Bridger $1 million for spill

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has finalized the first official fine to be levied against Bridger Pipeline for the January 2015 rupture of the company’s Poplar Pipeline just upstream from Glendive which released approximately 31,800 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River.

Following the end of a 30-day public comment period, Bridger has agreed to the DEQ’s final Consent Order, under which the company will pay a $1 million civil penalty for the spill, the first in what is likely to be a series of state and federal fines and penalties for the spill.

Under the terms of the Consent Order, $200,000 of the penalty will be paid by the company directly into the state’s general fund. For the remainder of the fine, Bridger is required to come up with $800,000 in supplemental environmental projects which they will have to implement within the spill area — that is along the Yellowstone between Glendive and the North Dakota state line. None of the fine goes directly to the DEQ.

Supplemental environmental projects are projects that are designed to reduce pollution, benefit public health, and/or restore and protect the environment.

“Oil pipeline spills cause significant impacts to nearby communities,” said DEQ Director Tom Livers. “Supplemental Environmental Projects are a great way for these communities to realize some benefit through projects that positively affect public health and the environment.”

For examples of what kind of supplemental environmental projects Bridger may implement, one need look no further than upriver on the Yellowstone. ExxonMobil has implemented several such projects as required by their Consent Order with DEQ for the 2011 Silvertip Pipeline spill near Laurel. 

Examples of supplemental environmental projects undertaken by ExxonMobil include developing an oil spill response plan for the Yellowstone River, purchasing and deploying spill response equipment at communities along the river and training local responders in its use and redesigning and replacing the fish bypass at the Huntley diversion dam.

DEQ’s fine against Bridger has no impact on other fines the company is facing. In an oil spill situation like this one, multiple state and federal agencies have different fines and penalties they could assess the responsible party.

The largest fine Bridger may face will likely come from the Montana Department of Justice’s Montana Natural Resource Damage Program, which, together with the U.S. Department of the Interior, announced its intention in October to seek natural resource damages against Bridger for the spill. 

It was through that process that ExxonMobil was assessed a $12 million penalty in mid-2016 for the Silvertip Pipeline spill. Unlike the DEQ fine, all the money from any penalty assessed to Bridger under that program would go towards natural resource restoration efforts along the Yellowstone.

Bridger has already made voluntary contributions in the wake of the oil spill, something the DEQ has noted and lauded the company for. In fact, one of the few public comments the DEQ received on the Consent Order was to thank Bridger for their responsiveness to the spill and their investments in the Glendive community in its aftermath.

Bridger has to date paid a little over $80,000 to cover the state’s cost of managing the spill. The company also purchased two state-of-the-art pieces of volatile organic compound testing equipment for the Glendive water treatment plant in the immediate aftermath of the spill, a contribution of more than $50,000.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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