HELENA – An ExxonMobil subsidiary has stepped back from plans to haul oversized oil refinery equipment to Canada along scenic two-lane highways in Idaho and Montana.
Imperial Oil has applied to the Montana Department of Transportation for permits to transport about 300 smaller versions of the so-called megaloads to Alberta via Interstates 90 and 15, transportation officials said Friday. That application would include all of the modules destined for the Kearl oil sands project, Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser said.
The company originally planned to ship the giant, road-blocking loads from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho, along U.S. Highway 12 into Montana, then up Montana 200 and other two-lane roadways to the northern border.
“We’re very encouraged,” said Linwood Laughy, a Highway 12 resident who led opposition to the loads. “It looks to me like the little people can have some influence over a giant, powerful corporation, even, frankly, when they have at their side the state’s governor and the state Legislature.”
Rolheiser, however, said Imperial Oil isn’t giving up on the Highway 12 route. “Imperial continues to view U.S. 12 as a viable option, as a viable route,” he said. But with permitting delays experienced thus far, he said, the company wanted to have a “contingency plan” in place.
The proposed route met with fierce opposition from residents, conservation groups and local governments in both states. They said a proper study was not conducted on how the massive loads, which would lumber at night along the historical roadway that follows a portion of the path that Lewis and Clark traveled, could affect the road, the environment, local residents, businesses and tourism.
Shipments along that route have been stalled since a Montana judge in July granted a preliminary injunction requested by Missoula County and conservation groups that filed a lawsuit against the Montana Transportation Department. However, Rolheiser said a modification of the injunction that Imperial won in October could allow the company to apply for Montana permits for some Highway 12 shipments, as long as they shifted onto a freeway route at Missoula.
Imperial has since divided many of the modules and shipped dozens of smaller loads from Lewiston up U.S. Highway 95 to I-90 at Coeur d’Alene, and from the Port of Pasco up U.S. Highway 395 to I-90 at Spokane.
Now the company has broken down all of its modules of oil field equipment and made them ready for interstate travel, Montana officials said. This new application, if approved, would allow Imperial to haul them along the interstate beginning next week through the end of March.
Laughy said, “If they come back, why, the rural people of Highway 12 will still be there.”
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