More megaload modules headed here

Representatives from oil company answer questions in Lewiston

By Elaine Williams of the Tribune

Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Seventeen more modules of ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil will be shipped to the Port of Lewiston before the Columbia/Snake river system closes to barge traffic for lock rehabilitation on Dec. 10.

They will join 16 others already at the Port of Lewiston that are among the first of more than 200 megaloads ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil wants to cross Idaho on U.S. Highway 12 that will consume two lanes of traffic.

But the oil company has yet to receive permission from the state for the first to pass, or offer a backup plan of what it will do if the paperwork is never issued. Barging from Lewiston to the Pacific Ocean won’t be open again until the middle of March.

“We would have to look at that,” said Chris Allard. “These are pretty technical pieces of equipment and that would have to be carefully studied.”

Allard is Imperial Oil’s senior project manager with the Kearl Oil Sands Project in Calgary, Alberta. He was one of three representatives of ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil in Lewiston Tuesday on a trip where the group was visiting at least one other newspaper to answer questions about the megaloads.

The oil company is surprised at how long it’s taking to secure the necessary permission. U.S. Highway 12 has a history of use for similar loads with the same weight per axle as the modules for a processing plant at the Kearl Oil Sands, Allard said.

Allard wonders if a great share of the public’s misunderstanding about the project is based on watching cable television. “We move through in a very controlled manner,” Allard said. “… It’s just not exciting. It’s not the ‘Ice Road Truckers.’ ”

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil has been working with the Idaho Transportation Department since May of 2008 doing everything possible to eliminate potential risks of the journey such as a rig landing in the Clearwater or Lochsa rivers that parallel the route, Allard said. “That is like an elevator failing. (It’s) an extremely remote event.”

Among the precautions it’s taken are having redundant breaking systems in the rigs and configuring the trucks so in the unlikely event something went wrong the load would most likely would land upright on the road, not in the river, Allard said.

Those safeguards and others, such as ways to alert the convoy of people rushing to the hospital in private vehicles, are so robust the oil company doesn’t believe it needs to pursue additional measures such as having an ambulance and paramedic travel with its megaloads, Allard said.

The latter is something ConocoPhillips has promised to do at its own expense with four megaloads it wants to take from U.S. Highway 12 to a Billings, Mont., refinery if it can get permission from ITD.

Similarly the proximity of a crane capable of removing the cargo from the river is not relevant to the issue because of extraordinarily small odds it would be needed, Allard said.

Opponents of the loads have been concerned that, according to the oil company, the soonest a crane could be on the scene of an accident is 10 hours.

Other conditions ITD has promised to impose on the megaloads include requirements they travel at night and pull over every 15 minutes to allow traffic to pass.

ITD’s decision on the ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil megaloads is of extreme importance to the United States, Allard said.

ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil’s project is one of the largest in the Canadian oil sands, projected to produce 345,000 barrels a day once it reaches capacity and maintain that for about 40 to 50 years, Allard said. .

Such volume diminishes the dependence of the United States for oil from more volatile places like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, Allard said. Idahoans benefit directly from Canadian production, Allard said.

More than 80 percent of the crude oil supply for three Billings refineries comes from Canada and a significant share of that is from the oil sands. Just one of those refineries was responsible for more than seven percent of Idaho’s gasoline in 2009.

Highway 12 play will play a critical role in developing the supply of oil ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil is tapping, Allard said.

It is the only way to get its modules to the Kearl Oil Sands, Allard said. The maximum height of the loads, 30 feet, makes them too tall to be trucked from the Gulf of Mexico through the center of the United States or across Canada, Allard said.

The height was dictated by the Korean made modules needing to be compatible with other modules manufactured for the Kearl Oil Sands, Allard said.

The modules procured in Korea are different than those manufactured in Canada and the Korean manufacturer has a proven track record of making similar modules for other oil sands operators, according to ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil.

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

Hearing on public involvement in megaloads
permits will be televised Friday

A hearing to determine if more public involvement is needed on four megaloads ConocoPhillips wants to haul on U.S. Highway 12 will be televised at 8 a.m. Friday at the Idaho Transportation Department’s Lewiston office at 2600 North South Highway.
The proceeding is being conducted at the agency’s Boise headquarters. ITD has issued permits for the loads, but stayed them pending the outcome of the hearing. The proceeding is conducted to determine if three opponents of the megaloads will receive intervenor status and if a contested case hearing will be conducted on the permits.