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Yellowstone River Spill, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Office of Response and Restoration


NOS Responds to Yellowstone River Oil Spill

July 6, 2011

Yellowstone River

On July 1, a 12-inch crude oil pipeline breached in the vicinity of or under the Yellowstone River near Laurel, MT. The breach released an estimated 750 to 1,000 barrels (31,500 to 42,000 gallons) of crude oil into the river. Flood conditions in the area have created high-water levels and currents have been reported as high as seven to 10 knots, which have hindered some response activities. 

The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) is on standby to assist the Environmental Protection Agency, who is the lead agency on this resource, in their efforts to respond to the spill. Currently, OR&R is participating in coordination meetings as part of the Regional Response Team and working individually with other federal response agencies. For example, OR&R is providing information to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service relative to cleanup and wildlife concerns drawing from past oil spill response experience. 

Due to the flood stage of the river, response is focused on areas near the source and in backwater habitats. OR&R staff will continue to coordinate remotely and maintain readiness to deploy as needed. 


FINAL UPDATE, 8/09/11: Experts from NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration have completed their role in advising on the cleanup, assessing where the oil traveled during the spill, and initiating the early phases of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment. While NOAA is typically only called to action for spills where oceans and migratory fish are involved, the agency responded in this case based on a request to assist in Montana. The Environmental Protection Agency will continue to use NOAA's analysis as they move forward with the cleanup. The Bureau of Land Management now leads resource investigation and restoration efforts in coordination with other affected agencies and tribal organizations.

UPDATE, 7/28/11: At the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, OR&R's Emergency Response Division deployed a Scientific Support Coordinator and a deputy to assist with estimating the fate and transport of the spilled oil. Based on available information, division experts generated a report which will be used by the Unified Command to most effectively direct response activities. The Scientific Support Coordinator is also assisting with field observation, sample collection, and preliminary testing of various natural sorbents to help mitigate the risks to wildlife due to contact with oiled debris. In addition, the coordinator is providing technical support to the State of Montana representatives as needed.

UPDATE, 7/18/11: The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has asked NOAA to provide assistance in initiating a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) for the Yellowstone spill. OR&R will be establishing the structure and process, assessing the situation, and beginning injury planning and implementation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Staff from OR&R's Assessment and Restoration Division arrived at the command post in Montana on July 16 and will remain there for approximately two weeks.



The Office of Response and Restoration is the primary NOAA office charged with responding to oil spills, hazardous material releases, and marine debris. OR&R’s experts provide scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard for spills, and they also coordinate with other agencies during hazardous material releases to ensure protection and restoration of NOAA trust resources. OR&R also coordinates with federal, state, and tribal natural resource trustees to restore damaged coastal resources.