Idaho Hearing Officer may side with ConocoPhillips but other Tar Sands companies are on the run

The ruling from Idaho state hearing officer Merlyn Clark suggests the shipments be approved. No final decision has been made yet, however, but we all expect Ness, Director of ITD, to make his final decision after the fourteen day reconsideration period. Continuing legal avenues are being pursued by opponents in Idaho, but the decision is disappointing.

Opponents in Idaho have also requested to intervene in contested case regarding the 207 Exxon loads as well.

If you are interested in whether all this hubbub has impacted interest from other companies who might want to ship along the Highway 12 route, it has. Both the Canadian news source, the Globe and Mail, and the online Canadian Shipping website,, note that opposition to Tar Sands shipments in Idaho and Montana has led companies to begin searching for new routes into Alberta. The Mackenzie River is one option that has come to light as potential for the shipments.

So, there are two point to consider here.

One, early in the days of opposing the Highway 12 shipments, alas just 8 months ago, our fear was that MDT and ITD would turn the road into a permanent corridor and that we would see thousands of trucks along the route for years to come. The companies that are looking for other northern routes represent those thousands, and, if by some unlikely chance they are permitted to travel along Highway 12 and we just can’t stop them, our worst fear would be realized.

Two, the Mackenzie River route makes no more sense from a safety standpoint than does Highway 12, and the realities of arctic ice could very well keep the plan from succeeding. Even so, Northern Transportation Co. Ltd head, Martin Landry, has planned a trip to Seoul. S. Korea to meet with Korean manufacturing and shipping companies.

According to the Globe and Mail,

“NTCL has 76 years of experience in hauling freight up and down the Mackenzie, and has enough spare tug and barge capacity that it could bring 27 barges – each carrying multiple components – using its existing fleet, Mr. Landry said. The company also has a massive dock in Hay River, NWT, that it has built in anticipation of a Mackenzie Valley natural gas pipeline that has yet to be built, and has recent experience in trans-loading major pieces of equipment from ocean-going ships to barges.

But the northern option has several downsides. At least seven bridges on the 1,300-kilometre road from Hay River to Fort McMurray would need to be assessed by engineers to ensure they could accept the heavy loads. And, more importantly, Arctic ice would limit the season to just August and September, a window so narrow it could prove difficult to use for oil sands projects intent on speeding construction.

“If a project misses the last sailing, you’re basically stuck for a year. And the nature of these projects is that once someone gives the green light, they don’t want anything delayed. So a restriction on the shipping season – they would bypass that pretty quickly if they could,” said Rob Eskens, director of sales for Manitoulin Transport.

He called the NTCL idea “a little optimistic.”

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