Nightly News   |  July 04, 2011

Exxon cleanup expands on Yellowstone

An Exxon Mobil official said Monday the company still does not know the cause of a pipeline leak that sent tens of thousands of gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River. NBC’s George Lewis reports.

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>>> on this independence day , there's a huge cleanup under way not far from yellowstone national park . landowners along the yellowstone river in montana about 140 miles downstream from the park are furious after a pipeline that runs under the river burst on friday. oil coats the riverbanks around the city of billings and the town of laurel, and that's why we find george lewis tonight. good evening, george.

>> reporter: behind me you see some of the workers involved in the cleanup. montanans love their great outdoors and they're not too happy tonight that part of it is fouled with oil. exxon says it has more than 200 people working on cleaning up the oil spill , but about 1,000 barrels of crude, 42,000 gallons worth, were released into the yellowstone river . enough oil to fill five tanker trucks.

>> i want to personally apologize to all the people affected by this.

>> reporter: workers are putting up 40,000 feet of protective boom to try to keep the on oil from fouling more of the riverba riverbank.

>> right now we're not worried about how many dollars we're spending. right now we're worried about getting in and responding to the damage and making sure that we can cleanup.

>> reporter: officials speculate that strong floodwaters on the yell loan stone river may have slammed debris into the pipeline rupturing it and causing the spill.

>> i didn't find out about the spill until i walked down here and smelled it.

>> reporter: as we talked to this landowner, a helicopter flew overhead to survey the damage.

>> the only way to find the oil is to send people down the river.

>> reporter: many people who live and farm along the riverbank worry about the long-term effects.

>> we don't know what will happen in the future five years from today. what kind of effect does this have on this land?

>> reporter: her brother, george, agrees.

>> how do you recover from oil when you spill?

>> reporter: people here say exxon has been a good neighbor providing jobs for the community. still, they're upset.

>> it does make you mad, because you cannot replace this land.

>> reporter: while exxon said harm to animal was negligible, the local newspaper had pictured of a turtle covered with oil and a flock of pelicans trying to avoid it. tonight the people here are wondering what else will be found in the days to come. this pipeline has had a troubled history. several safety violations, and it had to be shut down in may when the waters rose. exxon re-opened it thinking it was safe. kate.

>> george lewis tonight in montana. thank you.