LEWISTON — Imperial Oil approved an expansion for its processing plant under construction in the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.
The move raises the possibility of additional megaloads on north central Idaho’s roads, even though many of the details of the project are still being hammered out.
About 200 of the 1,200 components needed for the processing plant, scheduled to be completed this year, are being manufactured in Korea, said Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil.
Most of the remainder were fabricated in Edmonton, Alberta, much closer to the oil sands, Rolheiser said.
The Asian-made modules are entering the United States at the Port of Vancouver, Wash.
From there they have been shipped on about three different routes. Some are transferred to trucks at Vancouver. Others have been barged upstream to the Tri-Cities before hitting the road. Still others took the river system to Lewiston and are being trucked on U.S. Highway 95.
Many of the shipments are being carried on rigs that take up two lanes of roadway and have to pull over every 15 minutes to allow other vehicles to pass.
It has not been decided if any modules needed for the expansion will use roads in the Northwest, said Rolheiser, who noted the next phase will have the same capacity as the facility under construction.
“It’s premature to comment on whether equipment might be supplied from outside North America. But having said that, Korea remains a safe and cost-effective manufacturer for the oil sands.”
It’s also not clear what megaload routes would be available for Imperial Oil in the United States. Originally, Imperial Oil wanted to barge components to Lewiston and then send them on U.S. Highway 12 through Idaho and on a network of two-lane highways in Montana.
Avoiding interstate freeways would allow Imperial Oil to ship larger pieces of equipment, since they wouldn’t have to fit underneath interstate overpasses.
For that idea to work, Imperial Oil would have to make improvements to Montana highways, such as turnouts, so it can meet that state’s rules about how often the shipments have to pull over. A judge is expected to rule in a court case on that issue in about a month, Rolheiser said.
In the absence of taking U.S. 12, Imperial Oil has found other ways to get its equipment to the Kearl Oil Sands. About 33 of the original 200 components arrived at the Port of Lewiston in the fall of 2010 and were converted to about 60 smaller loads.
About 20 extra-big shipments remain at the Port of Lewiston, including one that was supposed to leave Wednesday and three more set to move tonight.
Rolheiser declined to estimate how long it might take for Imperial Oil to transport the cargo that remains at the Port of Lewiston, or if any other megaloads might be shipped to Idaho’s only seaport.
“Our intention is to move them as expeditiously as we can, provided we can do it safely,” Rolheiser said.