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Senator Baucus asks Exxon for details on pipe spill

US Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus arrives at the Blair House in Washington
US Senate Finance Committee Chairman Baucus arrives at the Blair House in Washington

By Timothy Gardner

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. senator from Montana asked Exxon Mobil Corp on Tuesday for details about the pipeline that ruptured over the weekend spilling about 1,000 barrels of oil into the rain-swollen Yellowstone River.

"I'm calling on Exxon Mobil to answer some tough questions so we can find out how this accident happened and what needs to be done to make sure something like this it never happens again," Max Baucus said in a letter to Rex Tillerson, the chairman and CEO of Exxon.

The spill fouled water supplies and ranch lands along a stretch of the river downstream from the Yellowstone National Park.

Baucus asked Exxon to provide a chronology of inspections of the pipeline by the company, the federal government's Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, and any other government agencies.

He also asked for any correspondence in the last five years between Exxon and PHMSA regarding the ruptured pipeline.

An Exxon spokeswoman said the company will provide Baucus with all the information he wants.

PHMSA said on Monday it has begun its own investigation into the cause of the spill.

Baucus also called on Exxon to quickly set up a claims process to ensure that ranchers and others who may have suffered damage from the spill would get reimbursed. "Please devote special attention to the speed of this claims process," Baucus wrote.

The company already has about 17 personnel in Montana setting up a claims process, the spokeswoman said.

Fellow Montana Senator Jon Tester said he told Tillerson during a phone call on Tuesday to pay for the entire cost of cleaning up the spill and recovery.

"Exxon has responded to this accident quickly and effectively," Tester said in a release. "But as taxpayers and customers, we have done our part. Exxon has the means to fully absorb the cost of cleanup and recovery without squeezing Montana taxpayers or hurting local refinery jobs."

The company said it would do all it has to do to clean up the spill. "We will be responsible," the spokeswoman said.

The spill came just weeks after Exxon shut down the pipeline in May after the city of Laurel, Montana, had safety concerns due to the rising levels of the river from rain and runoff.

Exxon did a risk assessment after that shutdown and then restarted the line, feeling that it was safe.

(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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