March 5, 2011
MISSOULA, Mont. – Missoula County commissioners have asked the Montana Department of Transportation for clarification about apparent changes by Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil involving the moving of so-called megaloads of oil equipment through the state to Canada’s oil sands.
Commissioners on Thursday sent the agency a letter that was obtained by the Missoulian newspaper.
“Please include in your response any communications with the oil companies, transport contractors, or others, including copies of emails, relevant to the potential movement of any Canada-bound oversized loads on the interstate highways,” the commissioners said in the letter drafted by Deputy County Attorney James McCubbin.
The company has proposed moving 207 giant loads starting at the Port of Lewiston and going through Montana along U.S. Highway 12 to Alberta, Canada, where the modules would be assembled into a factory at an $8 billion complex at the Kearl oil sands.
However, the company in December started shipping smaller loads from the Port of Vancouver, Wash., and moving them on Interstate 5, Interstate 90 and Interstate 15 to Alberta. Pius Rolheiser, a company spokesman, said there will be about 60 “half-height” loads that can legally fit under interstate overpasses.
Rolheiser also said some of the megaloads at the Port of Lewiston have been undergoing reduction work for several weeks to make them smaller. The task will take months and cost more than $16 million, he said.
Jim Lynch, director of the Montana Department of Transportation, said he found out through news reports about the company making loads smaller in Lewiston. Such a move could lead to changes in an environmental assessment the state and company finalized last month, he said.
“We have not received anything from Exxon that says they’re going to break down the loads in Lewiston,” Lynch said. “If the number of loads is going to change, we have to look at what that does to the EA.”
It was unclear whether the 60 loads that are small enough to travel on interstates are part of the original 207 loads covered by the environmental assessment, he said. The company hasn’t yet responded to that question, Lynch said.
Rolheiser told the newspaper he thought they were but couldn’t confirm it.
Meanwhile, Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil plans to start moving a test megaload on Monday, starting from the Port of Lewiston and using U.S. 12 to get to Montana. The company hasn’t applied for a permit to move the load into Montana, Lynch said.
Another oil company, ConocoPhillips, has already sent one megaload from the Port of Lewiston across Idaho into western Montana on U.S. 12, and a second megaload is making the journey. Two more are planned. Each shipment is a three-story, 226-foot-long load carrying part of a 300-ton coke drum headed for a refinery in Billings, Mont.