We were on site and documented it.
Tribal officials confirmed that oil was spotted in the river at least two weeks ago by a kayaker who reported to 911 that he was paddling through oil. According to a preliminary investigation by the Blackfoot Environmental Department, FX Drilling attempted to fix the pipeline after the 911 call, but left the break unmended for over a week, claiming they were unable to access the site. Also, according to the investigation, FX failed to initiate cleanup on the site after fixing the pipeline.
FX Drilling Corporation has claimed that the leak released “two barrels” of oil, or 84 gallons. However, officials with the Blackfeet Environmental Department have estimated the spill to be “several thousand gallons.” The volume of oil observed at the site was large enough to seep through a wheat field and down a coulee for approximately one mile where it entered the Cutbank River. It is the second significant release of oil into Montana rivers during the last month.
Several questions plague the indicent, not least is FX Drilling’s handling of the spillage. Their failure to disclose the event to the press, community, or Tribal authorities has caused suspicion that their conduct was not merely negligent, but indicative of a coverup. According to Mary Clare Weatherwax, an official at the Blackfeet Environmental Department, “There was definitely a lack of communication that would have allowed a proper response.” Weatherwax was also concerned that a wetland in the path of the spill had absorbed much of the oil as it traveled downhill.
As local ecologists, we became aware of the spill when contractors began quietly hiring people off the street offering $25 an hour (cash) cleanup jobs. On Friday, we located the source of the leakage on the edge of a wheat field and began measuring the dimensions of the contamination. We obtained soil and water samples from the shore of the river, and are now awaiting analysis from the Blackfeet Hospital Water Lab.
For further information please contact:
Reed Perry: [email protected]
See coordinates of the spill area on Google HERE:
The authors of this article are Destini Vaile, a writer and member of the Blackfeet Tribe, and Reed Perry, a Montana Ecologist.