[Vision2020] Report (column) on Moscow "Hearing" on Exxon-Mobil's Mega-Loads

nickgier at roadrunner.com nickgier at roadrunner.com
Thu Jul 1 14:37:49 PDT 2010

Hello Visionaries,

This is my radio commentary/column for this week.  Fortunate for us we got at least a public presentation and public Q&A.  The people who showed up in Lewiston got the "divide and conquer" poster session.  I got word to the FightingGoliath.org people that they should insist on the Moscow format in Kooskia, but I've not heard back if they succeeded.

The full version is attached.

Citizens can respond at comments at itd.idaho.gov until July 14.


On Monday and Tuesday of this week the people most affected by Exxon-Mobil’s plans to ship huge tar sands processing equipment up Idaho’s Highway 12 finally got a chance to voice their opinions. 

I asked the Exxon-Mobil Canada representative why the equipment was not manufactured in Alberta. There are highly skilled metal workers there and they are hopping mad that the contract went to a South Korean firm instead.  

Exxon-Mobil is paying Sungjin Geotec $250 million for 207 modules, but one has to add trans-Pacific shipping to the Port of Lewiston, overland transport from there to Northern Alberta, and upwards of $40 million ($12.2 million in Idaho) upgrading U.S. and Canadian roads. Big Oil’s spokesman assured me that the Alberta metal workers’ offer was still higher than these total costs. 

One citizen asked if there would be more shipments of this size and whether this route would offer long-term access to Alberta’s tar sands. The answer was that the 207 loads were all that was needed for the Kearle Oil Tar Sands Project. 

I did not get a chance to ask why Sungjin Geotec expects to sign another $1.2 billion contract with Exxon-Mobil.  At an average of $1.2 million per module this means that an additional 1,200 shipments will travel alongside one of Idaho’s most pristine wilderness river systems.

The Port of Lewiston is applying for grants to upgrade its facilities to accommodate these mega-loads. Port authorities reason that “if one oil company is successful with this alternative transportation route, many other companies will follow their lead.”  

The commissioners of Missoula County have been informed that Highways 12 and 200 will become permanent “high and wide” industrial transport routes to northern Alberta. 

An Alberta industrial association predicts that “this route will become the highway for energy-related products from not only South Korea, but even-lower-wage suppliers such as China and Vietnam.”

The manager of Radio Free Moscow asked how the mega-loads will negotiate the narrow and curvy highway. The Idaho transportation official seemed confident that it could be done safely, but local residents, who have made their own measurements, are dubious. More than half the modules are  24 feet wide but the highway is 23 feet at its widest, which means that they will extend dangerously beyond the fog lines. 

Local outfitter Lin Laughy reports that "in lots of places you can stand on the fog line and spit in the river. This isn't just one place or two places. This is for miles." At the Fish Creek bridge the total clearance will be 6 inches right at the edge of the Lochsa River.  

There is a real possibility that a module will slip into the river. As Laughy states: “The crane at the Lewiston port can't even pick these things up. That's why they have to slide them off the barges.” A module in the river would dam the waters and destroy portions of the highway. It would also prevent a crane--the closest one is 10 hours away in Spokane--from getting close enough to pull it out in any reasonable amount of time.

Idaho’s tourist industry brings in $3.4 billion each year, and $149 million of that is produced by 5,000 people working in the 150 businesses along Highway 12.  Most of the shipments will occur from March to November of 2011, right during the peak tourist season.  

How can Big Oil and the State of Idaho assume that these businesses will survive this transportation nightmare?  I asked the question: “Will Exxon-Mobil re-imburse businesses for lost revenue?” The Big Oil man said that he didn’t think that there would be any such claims.

The Canadians can decide for themselves whether they want to destroy their own wilderness to feed the world’s oil addiction, but we should have the right to protect our own land and rivers adjacent to Highway 12 and support the hard-working Idahoans who make their living on these great recreational resources.

Nick Gier of Moscow has fished and rafted Idaho’s rivers and hiked its wilderness trails for 38 years.  
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