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Fresh water being trucked into Glendive, Mont., after almost 50,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil spills into Yellowstone River

Crews work to contain an oil spill from Bridger Pipeline’s broken pipeline near Glendive, Mont., in this aerial view on Monday. (Photo by Larry Mayer / The Billings (Mont.) Gazette)

GLENDIVE, Mont. -- Truckloads of water are being brought into Glendive after a spill of close to 1,200 barrels of oil, roughly 50,000 gallons, has officials concerned about the town’s water supply.

Montana officials have notified Sidney, Mont., and Williston, N.D., both downstream from the leak, and municipal water systems there are being tested for contamination, too, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

The Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement Monday evening that elevated levels of hydrocarbons have been found in Glendive’s water supply.

“This is a significant spill, and the coordination of various response activities at the spill site, the city of Glendive, and downstream locations will be a priority over the next several days,” the EPA said in its statement.

Bridger Pipeline’s Poplar line, leaked oil Saturday near where it crosses the Yellowstone River, Glendive’s water supply. The leak occurred roughly 9 miles south -- upstream -- from the town of about 5,000 along Interstate 94 in eastern Montana.

As crews worked to find the cause of the leak, officials closed water intakes in the river and brought semi-loads of fresh water here Monday evening after 20 to 30 residents reported a smell or taste to their drinking water.

“We don’t know 100 percent yet that there’s contamination on the system but we are going to put out warnings to the residents of Glendive that they probably shouldn’t be drinking the water until we get definite results back,” Mayor Jerry Jimison said earlier Monday.

As of about 5 p.m. MDT Monday, as the EPA reported elevated hydrocarbons in initial test results, responders were placing containment structures across the Yellowstone River at Sidney, Mont., about 30 miles downstream from the leak, according to the EPA.

More specific test results are expected in the next couple days.

After passing Sidney, the river enters North Dakota and shortly thereafter joins the Missouri River, near Williston. The state of North Dakota has dispatched an official to watch for signs of the oil on its side of the border, according to the Montana  Department of Environmental Quality.

Governor declares emergency

When Gerald Reichert first heard reports of smelly drinking water Sunday, he thought it could all be psychological, residents nervous after hearing about an oil spill.

Then he smelled it himself in his Glendive home.

“Suddenly at our house there was a definite smell. It was a diesel smell,” Reichert, a member of the Glendive City Council, said Monday afternoon.

Reichert was one city official getting calls Sunday from residents who smelled something funny in the water.

Bridger Pipeline planned to continue bringing in a semi-load of water each day until the system is clear, Jimison said. Officials from EPA, Bridger, the state of Montana and the city of Glendive are developing a plan to flush the water distribution system, according to the EPA.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard are also responding.

Officials said earlier Monday that contamination was unlikely because the water intake is 14 feet below the water surface and the oil tends to float.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock visited the site Monday afternoon for a briefing, Jimison said. The governor’s office issued an executive order declaring a state of emergency in Dawson and Richland Counties. The river’s frozen state hinders response efforts, Bullock said in the order.

The leak began at 10 a.m. Saturday and Bridger shut down the line by 11 a.m., according to a company statement. The spill has wound up being on the higher end of the company’s initial estimate of 300 to 1,200 barrels.

“Our primary concern is to minimize the environmental impact of the release and keep our responders safe as we clean up from this unfortunate incident,” Tad True, vice president of Bridger Pipeline, said in a statement.

A spokesman for Bridger didn’t return a call for comment. Bridger Pipeline is under the umbrella of the True Companies, which also owns Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., Black Hills Trucking and other energy businesses.

The spill is the second in the river in recent years. In 2011, Exxon Mobil Corp.’s 40,000 barrel-per-day Silvertip pipeline in Montana ruptured underneath the river, releasing more than 1,000 barrels of crude and costing the company about $135 million to clean up.

The price of Bakken crude was little changed on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday despite the shutdown of the Poplar line, which carries Bakken crude to Baker, Mont. Bakken crude narrowed slightly to $5.40 per barrel below the West Texas Intermediate benchmark, according to Shorcan Energy brokers, compared with a settlement of $5.80 under the benchmark on Friday.

One trader in Calgary said he did not expect the outage to have a significant impact on differentials as the pipeline is not a major conduit for crude in the area.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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