‘Drop in the bucket’: ExxonMobil to pay $12mn in oil spill settlement

An emergency response crew hired by Exxon Mobil clean up an oil spill with an absorbent boom along the Yellowstone River in Laurel, Montana © John Warner
ExxonMobil Corp will pay $12 million to Montana for a 2011 oil spill that affected 85 miles of Yellowstone River as well as farmland. While state lawmakers are praising the settlement, some residents think it’s a far cry from a real punishment.

In July 2011, an Exxon pipeline by Billings, Montana burst and leaked 1,500 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River just 150 miles downstream from Yellowstone National Park. Five years later, the company has settled with the state of Montana and the US government.

This proposed settlement marks yet another step in the process to return the Yellowstone River and its surrounding ecosystem to the majestic state it was prior to the oil spill,” Governor Steve Bullock announced when the proposed consent decree was officially filed on Wednesday.

"All of us as Montanans lost something when that spill occurred," Bullock said. "This money is to make sure not just that we're compensated but the pelicans are where they should be, the fish are where they should be."

Montana will receive $9.5 million from the settlement, and the federal government will receive $2.5 million. Exxon claimed to have already spent $135 million on the river cleanup to restore the riverbed habitats as well as the terrestrial habitats.

But this may not conclude the saga of the Silvertip Pipeline for Montana residents.

We will still have a complaint for a penalty but that is not yet resolved,” said John Cruden, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the US Department of Justice, at the announcement.

While the settlement is awaiting approval in by a US district court judge in Montana, it is subject to 30 days of public debate and comments on the plans. Some citizens aren’t thrilled about this development.

I'm sorry, but $12 million is a drop in the bucket for ExxonMobil and doesn't teach them anything about accountability," farmer Alexis Bonogofsky told Reuters. Her land was fouled by the spill five years ago.