Pipeline Breach Spills Crude Oil on Crow Reservation

May 28, 2021

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP)– A breached oil pipeline has spilled an undetermined amount of crude on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana and may have been leaking for months before it was discovered, a tribal official said Wednesday.

The spill was spotted earlier this week by a rancher checking his cows several miles east of Fort Smith in a remote area near the Montana-Wyoming border, said Vernon Hill with Crow Disaster and Emergency Services.

Crude oil could be seen on top of the soil in a deep ravine covering an area about 15 yards (14 meters) wide and 100 yards (91 meters) long, Hill said.

“It looked like it was this past winter when it broke,” he said. “It was probably underneath the snow and the snow melted and they were able to see it.”

Hill did not know if the leak had been stopped but said federal officials and oil companies that operate in the area were notified.

Hill said the spill was about three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometers) from Soap Creek and did not get into any waterways.

Tribal member Richard White Clay said photos taken by the rancher who discovered the spill appeared to show oil in a ravine that drains into Soap Creek and a hole that was filled with crude after it was dug by a backhoe on the site. White Clay said his niece is one of the owners of the affected land.

“They were shocked and upset about why they weren’t notified until now,” White Clay said.

In 2013, a broken Phillips 66 pipeline spilled up to 25,000 gallons (95,000 liters) of gasoline on the Crow Reservation. Two earlier breaks along that same line in 1997 spilled a combined 97,000 gallons (368,000 liters). In each case, shifting land was blamed for the breaks.

Hill said there were no obvious signs that the land in the area of the latest spill had shifted.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was monitoring reports on the spill but as of Wednesday had not received a request for assistance from the tribe, spokesperson Dana Barnicoat said.

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