On January 17, 2015, a pipeline owned and operated by Bridger Pipeline, LLC, of Casper, WY discharged at least 30,000 gallons (approximately 714 barrels) of Bakken crude oil into the lower Yellowstone River just upstream of Glendive, MT. The lower Yellowstone River supports a diverse aquatic community that includes the endangered pallid sturgeon (Scaphirhynchus albus), the Montana Species of Concern sauger (Sander canadensis), and numerous other fish, mussel, and reptile species. Various terrestrial wildlife species that interact with the Yellowstone River are also present, including waterfowl and bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) that are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. At the time of the release, the Yellowstone River and its floodplain were experiencing winter conditions, with ice and snow covering large extents of its length.
Oil was primarily contained under the river ice resulting in dissolved concentrations of benzene and other constituents exceeding water quality standards in the river as well as in the Glendive municipal water intake system approximately 6.5 miles downstream of the spill. Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) issued a fish consumption advisory due to detectable levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) found in fish muscle tissues. Despite winter conditions, open water areas existed in places below the spill on the Yellowstone River with oil sheen observed in open water areas. These ice-free areas are important habitats for migratory birds as they often provide the only open water when ice and snow cover the area. Oil recovery efforts were limited to recovering oil that would rise to the surface at locations where ice slots were cut, boreholes were drilled, and natural ice fissures were located near the ruptured pipeline resulting in a small amount of oil being recovered. When the ice broke up, most of the oil that remained trapped within and under the ice moved downstream. Moreover, large blocks of melting ice containing oil continued to release oil into the river and oil was observed in the environment into April 2015. Areas of sheen and oil were located adjacent to and below melting oiled ice blocks. Both aquatic and aquatic-dependent species such as migratory birds were exposed to oil and the impacts of the spill. Impacts to potentially affected natural resources are currently being evaluated.