Rep. Markey demands oil spill hearings

The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee called Tuesday for hearings on a pipeline break that dumped thousands of gallons of oil into a Montana river late last week.

Rep. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking Democrat on the panel, said lawmakers should hold a series of investigative hearings on the spill as well as bigger-picture issues like pipeline safety.

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A pipeline owned by Exxon Mobil Corp. burst late Friday, spewing as much as 42,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont. The oil has spread as much as 15 miles from the site of the leak, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

“ExxonMobil has turned parts of the Yellowstone River black with their spilled oil,” Markey said. “Just as BP was held to account for their accident in the Gulf of Mexico, ExxonMobil should appear before Congress so that we can examine the holes in oil pipeline safety that led to this incident and how we might prevent another spill in the future.”

Eben Burnham-Snyder, a Markey spokesman, told The Hill Tuesday that Markey would like to see hearings in both the Natural Resources Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Markey, pointing to recent leaks, called for greater pipeline oversight.

“Given the recent history of pipeline spills and aging infrastructure, the oil industry should be willing to inspect their pipelines more often and more thoroughly,” Markey said. “Doing only the bare minimum of inspections will inevitably lead to more risk, and greater costs to the environment and to the oil industry.”

The oil industry has been faced with a slew of small pipeline spills in recent months. The 800-mile Trans Alaska Pipeline System, which carries oil from Alaska’s North Slope to the port of Valdez, was shut down for a short time in January after the pipeline operator discovered a small leak.

In addition, TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline, which carries oil from Alberta to Oklahoma, was temporarily closed down in May by federal regulators after a series of small leaks.

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The leaks come as the Obama administration is reviewing a permit application for a proposed pipeline that would carry Canadian oil sands crude from Alberta to refineries in Texas.

The project, known as Keystone XL, has come under intense criticism from environmental groups and some policymakers who argue, among other things, that the pipeline would make the United States more vulnerable to spills. But Republicans, some Democrats and the oil industry argue that approval would create jobs and  ensure that the United States is less dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

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