Dustin Monroe held up an old Gatorade bottle filled with orange, oil-contaminated water and implored Montana legislators to approve a bill that would ban fossil fuel pipelines from crossing under rivers and lakes. “How many of us in this room would drink this?” Monroe, CEO of Native Generational Change, asked the House Federal Relations, Energy and Telecommunications Committee during a hearing for House Bill 486 on Monday.
The measure would ban pipelines with a diameter of 10 inches or greater from going under navigable water bodies and establish construction requirements for them to cross above ground, including rules on casings and leak detection. The new regulations would apply to fossil fuels such as crude petroleum, coal and their products.The bill’s introduction comes after several major spills into Montana rivers over the last decade, ranging from Glendive to Billings. And it comes as the nation debates the best methods to transport crude oil, what risk to water sources is acceptable, and how far tribal sovereignty extends when projects cross aboriginal lands that are no longer tribally owned, as was the case outside Standing Rock where thousands have gathered for months to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline.
The decision by President Donald Trump in January to revive the Keystone XL pipeline project with a handful of executive actions drew a mixed response. As proposed, 284 miles of the 1,700-mile project would cut through Montana, crossing the Canadian border north of Malta and passing into South Dakota north of Ekalaka. It would cross the Missouri River near Fort Peck and the Yellowstone River south of Glendive. It would transport Canadian Tar Sands crude — argued to be more difficult or impossible to clean up because it is thicker than other oils — to southern U.S. refineries and ports.
The current industry standard for crossing streams, rivers and lakes is to use horizontal drilling — the same technology used in some oil exploration — to dig tunnels underneath them. Federal rules require pipelines to be at least four feet deeper than water bodies, but opponents of the bill said Monday most are now dug 20 to 60 feet deep, depending on geographic features.