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Concern over Mont. oil spill headed for Lake Sakakawea

AP Photo The flooded and oil contaminated home of Robert Castleberry alongside the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont., on Tuesday. The Yellowstone River swelled above flood levels Tuesday, raising fears that the surge will push thousands of gallons of oil spilled from a broken pipeline into undamaged areas and prolong cleanup efforts as crude seeps downstream and into back channels.

Officials say Friday's approximate 1,000 barrel oil spill into the Yellowstone River near Laurel, Mont., may be cause for concern for North Dakotans and is headed for Lake Sakakawea.

Mary Massad, general manager and CEO of Southwest Water Authority said during a meeting Tuesday morning in Dickinson that oil from the spill is coming toward the Authority's water source, Lake Sakakawea, which serves residents of western North Dakota.

Although she wasn't getting answers to her questions about how the spill would affect the lake Tuesday morning, by the afternoon the North Dakota Department of Health reassured her that it will be monitoring the situation and that the contaminants should be dissipated by the time it gets to Williston.

"I don't have all the answers yet but I am working on it," Massad said, adding she has been trying to get in touch with Exxon Mobil Corp. and other officials.

Massad is especially concerned for the Williston area because it is near the Yellowstone-Missouri Confluence.

Water flows into Lake Sakakawea from there.

Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer shares Massad's concern, saying that he believes oil from a broken pipeline under the Yellowstone River has traveled into North Dakota.

"At seven miles per hour, some oil is already in North Dakota. That's a given," Schweitzer said. "I'm asking everyone to get out there and report what you see on the river."

North Dakota is about 270 miles downstream from the Laurel area.

Exxon Mobil Corp. and the Environmental Protection Agency say the farthest downstream they've seen oil is about 25 miles from the broken line.