Exxon Pipeline Spill Poisons Yellowstone River

Our guest blogger is Alexis Bonogofsky, Tribal Lands Senior Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. She lives on a goat ranch along the Yellowstone River, which was contaminated by a major oil pipeline spill late Thursday night. Her post originally appeared on NWF’s Wildlife Promise blog.

The pipe ruptured Thursday night at around 11:30. I woke up around 7:45 a.m. Friday and went outside to do chores — let goats out to graze, feed and water chickens, let horses out, etc. I walked down to our bottom pasture because the river was supposed to flood and I wanted to see if it had come over its banks. Sure enough, there was about two feet of water in the pasture. I got this overwhelming smell of hydrocarbons — a very distinct smell, especially around here because there are three refineries. I checked our local paper and saw that a pipeline had ruptured. Even though this had been going on for over seven hours, and we are right on the river, we received no call, no warning…nothing. I had to find out about it by seeing it in our pastures. Apparently they evacuated people further up stream that were closer to the pipeline.

I spent all day yesterday calling our Montana Department of Environmental Quality who told me to call my local Department of Emergency Services. When I called DES, I got an answering machine that said they were on vacation. I was told repeatedly to call an Exxon hotline where the people that answered knew nothing about cleanup, if the oil is hazardous (which it is), and what was going on. They were just there to “take our information.” I called our County Health Department because they told people that the oil was just an “irritant.” When I talked to the lady there, she told me they were taking their information directly from Exxon and had done no independent research on the health effects of exposure to crude oil or the chemicals in it.

I saw birds trying to take off that couldn’t because of oil on their wings, I saw a spiny soft shell turtle dive into a glob of oil.


The government is telling us that Exxon is going to take care of everything and that they are doing oversight. I have seen no indication of this. I have called so many people that I know more than our government does about what is going on. We finally got a public relations person from Exxon to call us and he wouldn’t tell us what chemicals are in the oil or if any had been added. He told us to stay away from it and that we shouldn’t document the effects on the property “just to be safe” and yet no health warning has gone out to the public. They also told me “off the record” that I should move my livestock away from where the spill has impacted our farm.

Insurance agents for Exxon are already trying to get a hold of people to prevent people from organizing. Our summer pastures are ruined.


Alexis was briefly hospitalized Monday after suffering from what doctors diagnosed as acute hydrocarbon exposure.

“She started getting shortness of breath, dizziness; we took her to the hospital and they took an X-ray,” her husband Mike Scott told Reuters.