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Yellowstone River oil spill: It's not enough to simply clean up the river

July 7, 2011 |  1:06 pm

Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River oil spill has Montana residents furious at Exxon Mobil for its mixed messages, questionable credibility and lack of transparency. They're worried about their health, their land, their rivers, their fisheries, their livestock, their economy -- and beyond that, they're concerned about the larger environmental impact of this latest disaster.

"It's the tone deafness of this serial release of numbers that is especially revealing," writes Time's Tara Thean  about Exxon Mobil's, shall we say, haphazard style of communication since its pipeline ruptured Friday. "[Company President Gary] Pruessing is no doubt right that shutting off a valve is hard. But looking at your timeline before you talk to the press is exceedingly easy. When you lowball your time estimates and admit the truth only when you're caught, why in the world should anyone believe you when you next promise that your barrels-spilled number is take-it-to-the-bank reliable. Maybe it is, but your immediate track record says no.”

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, also a soil scientist, has made it really, really clear he'll hold Exxon Mobil accountable for a complete cleanup -- and the check. In other words, he's not going to take any of the oil company's "silly" statements about how "there's no damage to wildlife" at face value. He wants a full inspection.

But the effort shouldn't stop there. The Natural Resources Defense Council thinks the State Department ought to put the kibosh on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, writes Washington Independent's Ed Brayton. Now's the time, says the NRDC, to be "reexamining our pipeline safety regulations and assessing the safety risks of new proposed pipelines such as TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline that would carry even more corrosive, likely to spill and difficult to clean up substances such as tar sands from Canada."

And then there's the larger project, one that has the environment as a whole hanging in the balance. "The flooding may have caused the pipeline spill," writes Naomi Klein in Thursday's Op-Ed pages. "But here is the really uncomfortable question: Did the pipeline cause the flooding? Not this one particular pipeline, of course, but all the pipelines, and all the coal trains, and all the refineries and the power plants they supply? Was the flooding that has made the oil spill so much worse caused by the burning of oil and other fossil fuels? Put bluntly, do these dual disasters have the same root?"

How many more "reminders" will we need before we finally curb our oil addiction?


'Drill, baby, drill' won't do it

Ethanol's wasteful tax credit

Exxon Mobil, this park bench is for you

Climate change and the flood this time

In the 2012 campaign, environmentalists don't matter

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Cleanup workers use oil absorbent materials alongside the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Mont., Wednesday, July 6, 2011. Credit: Jim Urquhart / Associated Press

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