Imperial Oil test module delayed

Company awaits approval from Montana before sending massive test shipment on U.S. Highway 12

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune
April 5, 2011

The departure of an Imperial Oil test module from Lewiston was delayed at least 24 hours Monday as the company waited on clearance from Montana.

The rig, which will take up two lanes of traffic, has the green light from Idaho, where it will go from Lewiston to the Montana state line on U.S. Highway 12.

Once it arrives in Montana, it will travel 71/2 miles on U.S. 12 before pulling off in the parking lot at Lolo Hot Springs, where it will stay an undetermined length of time.

Montana is requiring Imperial Oil to build new turnouts so its proposed 114 megaloads can meet requirements about pulling over to allow traffic to pass. None have been constructed, and last week litigation was filed challenging the Montana Department of Transportation’s approval of the oversized hauls.

The test module weighs about 490,000 pounds, counting its transport equipment. It is 24 feet wide, 30 feet high and 208 feet long. Those are the same dimensions as the largest modules Imperial Oil wants to take through the United States on their way to a processing plant at the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, said Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil in Calgary.

Its role is to demonstrate such cargo can safely navigate U.S. 12 and its route through Montana, Rolheiser said. “It won’t serve any industrial purpose.”

That assertion is questioned by Linwood Laughy of the Kooskia area, a key opponent of the oversized loads. He speculated Monday the test module would play some kind of a part in the development of the Kearl Oil Sands project.

The weight of the test shipment has changed since it was first discussed, Laughy said, and its exterior in his opinion looks similar to four or five other Imperial Oil shipments sitting at the Port of Lewiston he’s viewed from the Lewiston Levee path.

What appear to be two, more than 10-foot-tall tanks connected to pipes, are on one end of the test module. Two doors as well as a garage-like entrance are on another side. A third side has what looks like two more doors

“They’re buildings and they’re very heavy buildings,” Laughy said. “There’s something in there. … They’re not mock-ups.”

Rolheiser and an ITD spokesman disputed what Laughy said. “It’s not working equipment,” ITD spokesman Adam Rush wrote in an email. “It looks the way it does to demonstrate what a module will look like and what its dimensions will be.”

Williams may be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2261.