A Citizen’s Guide To Oil Spills: A message to the residents of Glendive

Post about the state of Montan's response to the oil spill can be read here. Post about Glendive officials 2013 Yellowstone oil spill training can be read here. Ah, memories. In July of 2011, my farm was flooded in oil from an Exxon pipeline that burst under the Yellowstone River. Landowners along the river grouped up pretty quickly since many of our families lived there for decades and together we went through months of dealing with clean-up workers, water and soil testing, chronic coughs and stress. Now we sit back and watch you go through an oil spill. Although the circumstances are different, I can tell you these things shake out the same way, all over the country. An oil pipeline breaks. You are told everything is under control. It doesn't matter if it is or isn't, that is what they'll tell you. You and your neighbors complain of the smell of oil and you are told that you are wrong. Everything is going to be fine. Don’t worry about your health because being exposed to hydrocarbons is just like being sprayed by a skunk. (This is what we were told in 2011. Yes, I shit you not, this is what RiverStone Health, our public health agency, stated in a press release. Funny though, I’ve been sprayed by skunks and it has never sent me to the hospital with headaches, nausea and breathing problems. I mean, I guess I might end up in the hospital feeling sick if I had my face in a skunk's butt when it sprayed but luckily I've never found myself in that situation). They always low-ball the estimates of the amount of oil spilled in the beginning and then that amount gradually increases as time goes on and fewer people are paying attention. Getting answers takes longer than it should. Your questions about the spill are directed to the company instead of the government regulators. Maybe you called your Department of Emergency Services and no one answered or you were directed to call the oil company instead. The folks from the EPA tell you they are taking care of it and even though you drank some benzene, it’s not enough to hurt you. You trust them because they're the EPA or you don't trust them because they're the EPA, both feelings are probably legitimate. Politicians take tours of the site. They walk around, point in different directions and nod their heads solemnly. The political class will use it to make their political arguments and forget that there are actual people impacted by the spill. Most people from the company and government agencies you deal with are probably really nice and want to help. The oil spill will get some press coverage but the amount of attention will correspond with the location of the spill. In your case, it is the Yellowstone River (an iconic river in Montana that everyone in America knows), but, let's be honest, it is east of Billings. Here’s the truth. Once the oil is out, the oil is out. The damage is done. Their booms and white napkins do a little but not enough. Most of oil that is in the river is in the river for good. There is a lot of activity but most of it is for show and to make people feel better. That is the truth. Here are some things that all of us landowners on the Yellowstone River realized during the 2011 Exxon oil spill that you might consider.
  1. If you feel sick, go to the hospital. In 2011, after two days of being on my farm that was covered in oil, I had a headache that wouldn’t go away, I felt nauseous, I had an awful cough and I felt like fainting. I never go to the hospital, but that Monday, on July 4, 2011, I went to the emergency room. It is important that you go for many reasons. One, you probably need medical care and two, if no one goes to the hospital and we all keep being stoic Northerners, other people decide not to go. In 2011, I knew a lot of people who told me they had the symptoms that I had but never went to the hospital because Exxon and the agencies kept telling them that the oil couldn't make them sick. What we do impacts everyone around us.
  2. You are your own advocate. No one will do that for you. The oil company and government want this to go away as fast as possible. Do your own research, go to public meetings and ask tough questions to the politicians, government agency staff and the company. I know it is hard to stick your neck out in small communities. I know it is hard to talk to reporters. You don’t want to piss off neighbors or be the squeaky wheel. But, it is your responsibility to advocate for your community and to be a voice for the people who can't or won't speak out. You deserve answers and you know when you are hearing bullshit, so call them on it.
  3. Don't assume people know what they are doing. It is a natural tendency to trust people who are in a position of authority. We want to believe that someone has everything under control. Unfortunately, most of the time, that isn't true. The folks working in Glendive on this spill may or may not know what they are doing. In 2011 I was told by various people who worked for Exxon that oil was organic so it was safe for my livestock to eat, that oil was essentially a fertilizer and our grass would come back greener than ever and the agronomist they hired told me that you can drink Roundup and you'd be fine.
  4. Contact Governor Bullock's office and tell him that you need and want the state of Montana to lead in the oil spill response. There are politics at play here. The state needs to hear from you and they need to know that they should advocate for you. The Montana Department of Environmental Quality did an outstanding job in 2011 and they know how to deal with these spills.  You can email him at Bullock@mt.gov. If you want to know why this is important, please read this post. 
  5. If you need help or have questions, please call me and I can connect you to independent oil spill experts, people who have gone through the same thing and anyone else that can help advocate for the community. My email is abonogofsky@gmail.com and my number is 406-698-4720. Don’t hesitate to call.
If you'd like to see photos of the oil spill on our farm, you can check out a gallery by clicking here.  

11 Comments on “A Citizen’s Guide To Oil Spills: A message to the residents of Glendive

  1. Alex,
    Your comments apply to KXL or any other petroleum pipeline: when the oil hits the soil and the water, it’s too late for “remediation”. You’ve just had your Hiroshima Moment . . . welcome to the United States of AMOCO.: call Tom Richmond.

  2. Thanks for writing this and for being willing to share your experiences to help others. So many people blindly follow what they are told, unaware they are being hurt in the process.

  3. If the proponents of the KXL are really concerned about jobs, maybe they should be pushing legislation to require industry to maintain all the existing pipelines to prevent poisoning the waters of Montana before they start building more. “More jobs, less pollution!” Now there’s a campaign slogan I can get behind.

  4. It amazes me that the opponents of Keystone XL forget all about the carbon footprint of hauling by rail and truck on transportation facilities which often follow river corridors. New pipelines meet modern day safety standards, and this one was old and likely not updated due environmental hurdles. The communities impacted are resilient and the governing officials will need to address mitigating and remedying the situation. It will be hard work and take time. The five Alexis points are valid and good advise.

  5. Pingback: Should the state of Montana take the lead in the Glendive oil spill? | east of billings

  6. Well, this article was written by an environmentalist or concerned citizen. Although it brings up mentionable topics it is a biased argument in every aspect. So with my personal oilfield experience and numerous go arounds with the EPA, I can definitely assure you that like it or not they are very, Very thorough. And if there is a spill (oil, salt water brine) don’t be surprised if there is changes to the area in the future. But like anything, the landscape will come back .

    • It’s not an article, it’s a blog about my personal experience dealing with an oil spill. And yes, I’m biased because I went through an awful oil spill on my farm.

    • Well, this comment was obviously written by either ran employee of the oil company, a right wing fanatic, or an idiot.
      Don’t play with your health because the oil company tells you everything is going to be OK.
      And no, the landscape will not come back in your lifetime.

    • This insightful and informative blog post certainly is biased. It is biased on the side of people who live in communities across the United States with petroleum pipelines running through them. But, that does not mean that it must be dismissed and thrown out out like a piece of garbage. This post is meant to wake up the sheeple who have become complicit in their own demise. Big Oil cannot be trusted. Big Oil is in business to make Big Money come hell or high water. Big Oil does not care about people, clean air, clean drinking water or farm land. As long as the people trust the words from Big Oil pitchmen and hucksters, their lives and their land will continue to be destroyed. BRAVA ALEXIS!!!

  7. Petroleum is toxic & unnecessary! It is time to end dependence on it & switch to sustainable & renewable energy sources.

  8. Paul Mason, I suspect you feel that everybody who doesn’t see things your way is a “right wing fanatic” or an “idiot”.