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Date: 07-31-2023

Case Style:

United States of America v. Belle Fourche Pipeline Company and Bridger Pipeline, LLC

Case Number: 1:22-cv-00043

Judge: Susan P. Watters

Court: United States District Court for the District of Montana (Yellowstone County)

Plaintiff's Attorney: United States Attorney’s Office in Billings

North Dakota Attorney General's Office

Defendant's Attorney: Colin G. Harris, Jeffery J. Oven, Neil G. Westesen, Pamela C. Garman, Matthew Clark, Trip Demuth

Description: Billings, Montana civil litigation lawyers represented Defendants accused of violating the Clean Water Act, pipeline safety laws and North Dakota state laws relating to oil spills in Montana and North Dakota.

“Today’s settlement is the result of federal and state partners working together to comprehensively address oil spills and assess a significant penalty to deter future violations,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The agreement also protects public health, safety, and the environment by requiring action to make future spills less likely.”

“Oil pipeline spills can cause enormous and long-lasting damage to the environment,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement holds Belle Fourche and Bridger Pipeline accountable for their significant oil spills and requires them to take meaningful measures to prevent future spills from their oil pipelines.”

“All pipeline spills harm our environment and many threaten the safety and well-being of the American public,” said Deputy Administrator Tristan Brown of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). “PHMSA and our state and federal partners are sending a strong message that spills will not be tolerated.”

“As the longest free-flowing river in the Lower 48, the Yellowstone River not only is a national treasure for its historic significance, ecosystems and recreational opportunities, but it also is an important economic resource for communities along its banks and the state of Montana,” said U.S. Attorney Jesse Laslovich for the District of Montana. “It is essential for pipeline companies operating in and around our rivers to comply with environmental protection and public safety regulations. This agreement holds these companies accountable for their significant oil spills, and more importantly, will help protect the iconic Yellowstone River from future damage.”

“Through this settlement, we are furthering North Dakota’s twin objectives of safe energy development and protection of our environment,” said Attorney General Drew H. Wrigley for the State of North Dakota. “I want to especially thank the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality staff who spent countless hours investigating and responding to the spill.”

In 2015, Bridger’s Poplar Pipeline ruptured where it crosses under the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana. The pipeline crossing had been installed using the “trench-cut” method. The pipeline failed after being exposed due to river scour. Bridger has completed its cleanup of the Montana spill site, and Bridger and the State of Montana separately resolved claims under Montana state law.

Belle Fourche’s Bicentennial Pipeline ruptured in 2016 in Billings County, North Dakota. The pipeline traversed a steep hillside above an unnamed tributary to Ash Coulee Creek – which feeds into the Little Missouri River – when the slope failed. The size of the North Dakota spill was exacerbated by Belle Fourche’s failure to detect the spill until it was reported by a local landowner. Belle Fourche’s cleanup of the North Dakota spill site is ongoing with oversight by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. The State of North Dakota is a co-plaintiff in this case, and it has worked closely with the United States; both are signatories to the consent decree.

In addition to the $12.5 million civil penalty, the companies are required to implement specified compliance measures including meeting certain control room operation requirements and related employee training, implementing their water crossings and geotechnical evaluation programs and updating their integrity management program. Belle Fourche will also pay the state of North Dakota’s past response costs.

The case is being handled by the Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Enforcement Section, in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana, EPA, PHMSA and the State of North Dakota.

Outcome: Settled for $12.5 million.

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