Pipeline Operators to Pay $12.5M After Crude Oil Spills in Montana, North Dakota

The operators also are required to implement specified compliance measures, in addition to the civil penalty.

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Larry Mayer/The Billings Gazette via AP, File

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Two pipeline operators have agreed to pay a $12.5 million civil penalty related to crude oil spills in Montana and North Dakota.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced the settlement in a 2022 federal court lawsuit. Belle Fourche Pipeline Company and Bridger Pipeline LLC will pay the $12.5 million to resolve the claims made under the Clean Water Act and Pipeline Safety Laws, the EPA said. The affiliated companies own and operate oil pipelines in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.

In 2015, Bridger's Poplar Pipeline broke and spilled more than 50,000 gallons (about 190,000 liters) of crude into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana. Bridger has completed cleanup of the site, and in 2021 settled a lawsuit with federal and Montana authorities for $2 million. Montana's Department of Environmental Quality previously fined Bridger $1 million in the case.

In 2016, Belle Fourche's Bicentennial Pipeline in Billings County, North Dakota, broke due to a landslide and spilled over 600,000 gallons (about 2.3 million liters) of oil, impacting an unnamed tributary, Ash Coulee Creek and the Little Missouri River. Belle Fourche's cleanup is ongoing with oversight from North Dakota's Department of Environmental Quality, according to the EPA.

The agreement announced Monday does not resolve all issues with the Ash Coulee spill and reserves the government's right to bring future legal claims.

The $12.5 million civil penalty includes a nearly $4.6 million portion for North Dakota's Department of Environmental Quality. Belle Fourche also will pay the state's past response costs, totaling over $98,000, according to court documents filed Monday.

"Oil pipeline spills can cause enormous and long-lasting damage to the environment," Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance said in a statement. "This settlement holds Belle Fourche and Bridger Pipeline accountable for their significant oil spills and requires them to take meaningful measures to prevent future spills from their oil pipelines."

The operators also are required to implement specified compliance measures, in addition to the civil penalty.

Belle Fourche and Bridger are owned by Wyoming-based True Companies.

Bridger spokesman Bill Salvin said the operators have completed all remediation actions "to date" required by North Dakota's Department of Environmental Quality and "will work closely" with the department if further action is required. Future soil testing remains, Salvin said.

He said the operators have made upgrades to their pipeline network to enhance safety, including a new control center at their Casper, Wyoming, headquarters and a new leak detection system powered by artificial intelligence.

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