BOISE – A plan by Exxon Mobil Corp. to transport big and heavy pieces of refinery and mining equipment along U.S. Highway 12 through the Lochsa River canyon is generating concerns from a regional environmental group.
The oil company wants to ship the massive components starting this fall from the Port of Lewiston to Canada. The route would go along the Wild and Scenic Lochsa River canyon, over Lolo Pass and into Montana before reaching its destination, the Kearl Oil Sands fields in northeastern Alberta.
The proposal involves hauling 200 oversize loads of Korean-made modules, each 24 feet wide, 30 feet tall and 162 feet long. The shipments are expected to exceed the legal weight limits for the Idaho stretch of the trip.
Montana officials have prepared an environmental assessment and are now taking public comment on the company’s plan, but residents in Idaho will not have a say on whether the state will approve the shipments.
The company needs the equipment over the next 50 years to extract an estimated 4.6 billion barrels of bitumen, a thick oily substance that can be refined for commercial use.
Several shipping alternatives along the Pacific Coast were considered by the company before opting to ship the equipment up the Columbia and Snake rivers by barge, then by truck to the oil sand fields.
“Our bottom line is to accomplish this as safely and efficiently as we can with the least amount of impact,” said Pius Rolheiser, of Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil.
Jim Hepburn, who founded the Lochsa River Conservancy this year, has been collecting signatures in hopes of halting the shipments. He is concerned about the potential impact on a protected river corridor and its population of endangered salmon, steelhead and trout.
“Our biggest concern isn’t the present process but the precedents it will set for future projects,” said Hepburn, who also works as a fishing guide along the river.
Unlike Montana, Idaho does not require an environmental review for oversized shipping projects. But Idaho transportation officials say the company will have to customize trailer axles to better distribute weight loads.
The state will also require the company to ensure that traffic isn’t backed up for more than 15 minutes at a time. The shipments will be scheduled at night to limit traffic snarls.