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Jul 21, 2011 9:41 AM by Brittany Wooley- KTVQ News

'Anomaly' detected in Exxon pipeline before rupture in Yellowstone River

BILLINGS- Top officials with the Environmental Protection Agency and ExxonMobil were on the hot seat Wednesday morning in Washington at a Senate hearing looking into the July 1st oil spill in the Yellowstone River.

During the hearing, federal pipeline safety officials said recent inspections revealed what is being described as an 'anomaly' in the oil pipeline that ruptured in the Yellowstone River.

An administrator of the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Cynthia Quarterman, said it was detected during in-line inspections in both 2004 and 2009 and then re-evaluated just a month before the spill.

But, she said the 'anomaly' was below the required repair conditions.

"I don't think our pipeline inspector thought he had the authority to order Exxon to close its pipeline," Quarterman said.

Montana's senior U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Montana) expressed disappointed in the agency, even telling Quarterman it didn't sound like she was on top of the situation.

"The company made a mistake, it was wrong about the integrity of the pipeline. Your agency made a mistake, it was wrong about the integrity of the pipeline, and it's our job to do all we can to make sure there is no recurrence," Senator Baucus said.

Exxon officials say they have not been able to reach the pipeline to determine what caused the rupture.

They say as soon as the water level drops, they will move quickly to determine the cause.

Yellowstone County Commissioner Bill Kennedy also testified at the hearing stating that while the local government has been informed during the various stages of the spill, they have not been included in the decision-making process.

"We need to have a strategy to keep local government officials on board and involved in decision-making positions. We know the residents, the geography, and the companies in our community," he said.

A Laurel landowner whose property was covered in oil told the committee Exxon and the Environmental Protection Agency are doing a good job with their clean-up efforts, but he is concerned about the value of his property.

"I want to have a report in my file cabinet that I can show anybody that might be considering buying my place someday a clean bill of health for my property. I feel like Exxonmobil owes me that. The same with my water well. I want my well to be tested for maybe three years or something. I don't think my water is bad. I just worry that somebody else might," Scott McBurney said.

According to the President of Exxonmobile, Gary Pruessing, there are about 40 people on the ground handling claims to make the situation right with each person affected by the spill.

"We want to work with all of those individually. We don't have any set formula for anything. We want to work with the individual landowners and make sure that we've addressed all the issues that we've caused," Pruessing said.

To prevent future spills, Exxon told the committee it will replace the ruptured pipe with a new one, installed 30 feet below the ground.

The current standard is four feet, and the pipe that spilled oil into the Yellowstone was buried five feet below the ground.

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