If oil spills in the forest

Uh oh! I guess somebody’s going to get a stern letter, and they’ll have to promise not to do it again:

HELENA, Mont. — A newly discovered oil spill in northwestern Montana went unreported for a month before a neighboring landowner complained to the Blackfeet Indian Tribe, federal regulators said Monday.

FX Drilling Co. never reported the spill, estimated to be between 420 and 840 gallons, to the tribe or to the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA spokesman Joe Vranka said.

The amount spilled at the FX Drilling Co. oil field in a remote corner of the Blackfeet Indian Reservation appears to be much less than the estimated 42,000 gallons that emptied into the Yellowstone River earlier this month. But the northwestern Montana spill comes at a time when all pipeline and oil operations in the state are under scrutiny as a result of the larger Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline break.

The company discovered the break in the flow line between two oil wells on June 12 and shut down the line, Vranka said. Company officials may have believed the spill didn’t go beyond the oil field, he said, when oil had actually flowed down a ravine nearly a mile to the Cut Bank Creek, which connects with the Marias River.

A neighboring landowner notified the Blackfeet tribe last Tuesday, and the tribe in turn notified the EPA. Officials from the federal agency made the first contact with FX Drilling by calling the company, Vranka said.

The company had 24 hours to report a spill once it reached the waterway, Vranka said. The federal agency is looking into possible penalties against the independent oil and gas producer.

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