July 14, 2011

Panel Holds Hearing on Silvertip Pipeline Oil Spill in Yellowstone River

Washington, D.C. – The House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials today held a hearing on “The Silvertip Pipeline Oil Spill in Yellowstone County, Montana.”

Below is the opening statement of U.S. Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL), Democratic Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials, as prepared for delivery:

Statement of the Honorable Corrine Brown, Ranking Member
Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
“The Silvertip Pipeline Oil Spill in Yellowstone County, Montana”
July 14, 2011

I want to thank Chairman Shuster for holding today’s hearing on ExxonMobil’s oil spill in Montana’s Yellowstone River.  This is a very timely hearing, as the U.S. has unfortunately experienced a high number of pipeline ruptures over the last few years that have caused significant environmental damage, health concerns, and death.

I want to begin by expressing my deepest sympathy to the residents of Montana who are dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy.   As a resident of Florida I know all too well the devastating economic and emotional affects these spills can have on people.   Most of the Gulf Coast is still cleaning up from the damage that will take years to fully recover from.  And I can assure everyone here that that oil didn’t simply disappear and could easily return to our shores during another natural disaster. 


Tomorrow will be the one year anniversary of capping the BP spill and I sure hope that we are using what we learned in that spill to prevent the same mistakes from happening in Montana.   I think we need to not only ensure that ExxonMobil protected its pipeline from a river that is known to be fast moving, and is following the law as it relates to pipeline safety, but that the company is also properly addressing the health and economic concerns of the people impacted by this spill.  During the Enbridge spill in Michigan, we saw cases of people signing away all their rights for an air conditioner.  We need to keep ExxonMobil’s feet to the fire and can’t let things like this happen again to the American people.

I also want to take this time to express my disappointment that the Chairman discharged this Committee from consideration of a bill that would force the President to make a quick decision on whether to allow the Keystone Pipeline to be constructed.

The Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure is the committee of primary jurisdiction over pipeline safety legislation and is the primary committee of referral for the Keystone legislation.  There are still major concerns with this project, and this same pipeline will be traveling across the Yellowstone River that is being affected today by the Exxon spill.  This should have been strongly vetted by our committee and I join Ranking Member Rahall in urging the Committee to hold hearings and markups of the legislation prior to its Floor consideration.  It would be disastrous if a spill occurred on that pipeline and this Committee never held a hearing on it.

When I was Chair of the Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous materials, I held a series of Five (5) separate hearings concerning pipeline safety, which highlighted significant problems with reporting and inspections, as well as an unhealthy relationship between the pipeline industry and the agencies regulating them.

In addition, much like the sewer and water infrastructure in this country, much of the pipeline infrastructure is reaching the end of its useful life, and we are going to need to make significant investments in improving these assets if we are going to accomplish the goal of both delivering critical petroleum to the states and protecting citizens from the dangers of hazardous pipeline spills and deadly explosions.

We also need to develop new technologies and strategies for improving safety in high populated areas that are now located above these aging pipelines.

With the high unemployment rate this country is currently facing, we should be hiring and training inspectors and putting contractors to work replacing this aging pipeline infrastructure in the U.S.  Gas and oil companies are making record profits, while the infrastructure that brings their products to market becomes more unstable and more dangerous.

I hope that those testifying today will have some good ideas about how we can prevent future accidents and what Congress can do immediately to improve the safety of the nation’s pipelines.

With that, I want to welcome today’s panelists and thank them for joining us.  I look forward to hearing their testimony.