Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D-Mont.) doesn’t have too much trust for ExxonMobil these days. And from the sound of it, he has good reason. As cleanup efforts continue in Montana after a pipeline burst, sending at least 1,000 barrels of oil into the Yellowstone River, the Montana governor has found little use for ExxonMobil, the operator of the defunct pipeline.
When speaking with liberal talk show host Thom Hartmann last Friday, Schweitzer outlined several areas of frustration with the energy giant. Most of the frustration had to do with the company’s lack of transparency. Schweitzer’s first bone to pick was that Exxon wanted to conduct its cleanup operations in secrecy.
“ExxonMobil, they kind of run a different type of shop down there in Houston, Texas. They took over a big part of a big wonderful hotel here in Billings, and the EPA is in there with them and we are in there with them. But they have dozens of private security people telling people you can’t go in here,” the Montana Democrat said.
Not wanting to violate public disclosure laws, and reiterating that, “Montana is the client in this situation,” Schweitzer took his environmental disaster team elsewhere. “So we have pulled out of their command center and set up a separate command center and we are still going to send up a representative over there to be involved with their meetings, but we are not going to be part of any secret meetings and putting documents aside and saying the citizens can’t see it.”
Schweitzer’s frustration with ExxonMobil doesn’t end with that requirement. As he found out more about the timeline of the spill and the facts about how much oil was spilled, Schweitzer didn’t like what he was hearing.
For starters, he seemed puzzled that the disaster was being managed from across the country. “They are controlling a pipeline in Montana from a room in Houston, Texas. They said that the pressure went down in the pipeline and they recognized it and within six minutes they got the pipeline shut down and this happened at 20 minutes to midnight. But understand this was after 750 to a thousand barrels had been released.” That last fact, the 750 to a thousand barrels estimate, is where Schweitzer began to shake his head.
Noting that he is a soil scientist and has experience with laying pipelines, Schweitzer pointed out his most basic concerns. “A lot of us were asking questions like ‘How can you shut down a 12-inch pipeline down with 400 pounds of pressure per square inch in six minutes. Wouldn’t something blow up?'” To that question, Schweitzer and his team of experts got an interesting response. “[Exxon] responded that, ‘Oh well, it wasn’t six minutes. We started to shut it down after six minutes and then it really took us some more time until it was shut down so we didn’t get it completely shut down and we got her shut down in about 30 minutes.’ This is what I was told by the president of the ExxonMobil pipeline in front of the press two days ago,” a frustrated Schweitzer told Hartmann.
But Schweitzer wasn’t done getting surprises. It turns out that the new story ExxonMobil was telling Schweitzer wasn’t right either. “Some snoopy Associated Press reporter, a gumshoe, you know how they are, began snooping around and it turns out that it was 50 minutes. And by the way, when it was six minutes it was 750 to 1,000 barrels spilled. When it was 30 minutes, it was 750 to a 1,000 barrels spilled. And you’ve got it! When it was 50 minutes it’s still 750 to 1,000 barrels spilled.” The math didn’t make too much sense to Schweitzer.
But Schweitzer, who throughout this ordeal is keeping a good sense of humor, says he is willing to learn how the spill estimates remain the same while the length of time the oil flowed into the Yellowstone keeps changing. “I went and got myself a $2 calculator and I’m going to mail it down to Texas to see if they have an engineer who can explain that to me.”
To see the entire interview check out the video posted below: