Several groups – and a governor – contend mega-loads mean mega-dollars
A myriad of groups are lining up to support some shipments of large oil equipment that are scheduled to travel through Idaho to Billings, Montana, and Alberta, Canada, and they are getting help from a high-profile figure. Gov. Brian Schweitzer of Montana is officially backing the shipments. The Democrat agrees the large loads will mean economic growth.
One pro-shipment official is also worried that a national environmental lobbying firm is altering the discussion on the mega-loads because it opposes the oil projects.
Drive Our Economy (DOE) is a consortium of business interests in Montana and Idaho. Members include the Idaho Farm Bureau, the Idaho Trucking Association, the Montana Chamber of Commerce and the Motor Carriers of Montana. The group says that even though the majority of the loads are headed to Canada, Montana and Idaho will see economic benefits.
Overall, DOE says Idaho will likely see about $13 million in activity, while Montana, where one of the processing plants will be stationed, will gain about $67 million. The Port of Lewiston will also see big money, with DOE estimating that the port will bring in about $80,000 a month in the year-long shipping process. Additionally, the two states could see as much as $30 million spent on contracting, trucks and state police escorts.
Schweitzer says that those who are worried about the shipments leaking or spilling have no need to fear because the drums are only constructed of steel and contain no fluids. Speaking on a Montana radio show, Schweitzer said he supports the plan and his state will work to make load transportation easy and simple while following state law. The Montana governor has also said that if permits are denied for the large loads, it would be a “job killer” for his state.
Barry Stang is the head of the Motor Carriers of Montana and one of the figureheads of DOE. In an opinion piece posted in mid-November, Stang wrote that national interest groups need to remove themselves from state policy discussions. Of particular concern for Stang is the Natural Resources Defense Council, a Washington, D.C. –based lobbying firm claiming to be “The earth’s best defense.”
“Montanans must make their voice heard on this issue, because right now it is being drowned out. In fact, during the open comment period offered on this issue, 97 percent of the comments received in opposition were generated by the NRDC, reportedly as part of a nationwide campaign,” wrote Stang. “We cannot allow our state citizens and economy to be the collateral damage in this battle over the future of America's energy industry.”
Oil companies plan 200 loads to be carried through Idaho’s Scenic U.S. Highway 12, a windy corridor alongside the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers, which are federally-protected. The loads – 38 to this point – are sitting in the Port of Lewiston awaiting transport. ConocoPhillips lays claim to four of the loads, which are bound for Billings. The other 34, property of ExxonMobil, are headed to Canada. Conoco says delays in shipping have cost the company $2.5 million, a number that could rise to $40 million if permits are not approved by next spring.
Companies plan to haul the loads at night to minimize travel delays and maximize safety.
Environmentalists contend that the loads are too large and dangerous for the scenic byway and will do unnecessary damage to Idaho’s roadways. Advocates for the West (AFW), a conservation group based in Boise, says none of the stakeholders – environmentalists and home and business owners along the river – were ever approached with details about the shipments.
AFW also isn’t happy with the content of the mega-loads because the equipment being transported is crucial to the removal of oil from oil sands. The group says methods for processing oil sands are “hugely wasteful” and will do much harm to the earth and air.
ITD issued permits for the Conoco loads, but shipments are on hold and awaiting a hearing set for Dec. 8 and 9 in Boise. The case has been in and out of court since May, though the case was thrown out of the Idaho Supreme Court because justices ruled it didn’t have jurisdiction over the issue.