How Does the Leaky Yellowstone River Pipeline Size up with Keystone XL?

January 19, 2015 Updated: January 22, 2015

An oil pipeline in Montana has leaked as much as 50,000 gallons of oil, with a portion of it going into the Yellowstone River. And naturally, some are wondering how the pipeline sizes up with the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline expansion, which would cut across Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota if completed.

The pipeline in question that leaked on Saturday is called the Poplar Pipeline.


Here’s a few tidbits about the Poplar Pipeline:

– The Poplar Pipeline is a 10-inch and 12-inch line that moves crude oil from northern Montana to southern Montana, according to the True Company pipeline system.

– The line, formerly known as the Wascana Pipeline, is operated by Bridger Pipeline and was built about five decades ago (Editor’s note: This is a correction; the article said originally that it was built in 2012.

– There’s four receipt points: Poplar Station in Roosevelt County, Fisher and Richey Stations located in Richland County, and Glendive located in Dawson County. It starts at the Canadian border and runs to Baker, Montana. The spill is located about nine miles upstream of Glendive.

– The pipeline is part of the True Company pipeline system, which are composed of the Bridger Pipeline, LLC, the Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., and the Butte Pipeline Co. They own and operate the Belle Fourche pipeline, Bridger Gathering System, Butte pipeline, Four Bears pipeline, and the Poplar System pipelines, according to a State Department report.

–  An emergency response plan was activated, and local governments were immediately notified. The pipe leak was “shut in” on Saturday, said Bridger Pipeline via an update.

The Poplar Pipeline oil spill has leaked as much as 50,000 gallons of oil, with some of it going into the Yellowstone River in Montana. ( screenshot)
The Poplar Pipeline oil spill has leaked as much as 50,000 gallons of oil, with some of it going into the Yellowstone River in Montana. ( screenshot)

Now, about the Keystone XL expansion:

– The Keystone XL pipeline expansion proposal is 36 inches in diameter.

– The pipeline crosses the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers in Montana.

– The expansion will run from Hardisty, Alberta, and Steele City, Nebraska

– Keystone’s expansion will also pass through Baker–same as the Poplar system.

– The controversy over the expansion is centered around its routing over the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska. Critics have said that if the pipeline was to leak over the aquifer, it would be catastrophic.


Some residents in the Montana town of Glendive have said they can smell and taste oil in their drinking water, according to the Billings Gazette. As a precautionary measure, the city’s water plant stopped drawing water from the Yellowstone River as a precaution.

It so happens that the Keystone pipeline would actually cut across both the Yellostone and Missouri rivers in Montana.

While it remains to be seen how much damage was done with this weekend’s oil spill, reports say crews are still working to clean up the crude. The Poplar Pipeline is operated by Bridger Pipeline LLC of Casper, Wyoming. An official with the firm said that no more than 50,000 gallons, or about 1,200 barrels, of oil was spilled.

“Oil has made it into the river,” Salvin said, adding that the river is partially frozen, which could minimize the impact of the spill. “We do not know how much at this point.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.