A Long Overdue Update: Exxon Test Module Hits Multiple Snags
After many months of delays, rescheduling and legal wrangling the first Exxon “test-validation” module left Lewiston, Idaho just before midnight on Tuesday, April 12. The 50 ton warehouse-looking test module is the first of 207 oversized pieces of mining equipment bound for the Kearl oil sands of Northern Alberta.
The company behind the project, Imperial Oil, hoped to have all 207 pieces shipped by the end of the year. Their flawed transportation plans have, however, proved disastrous at best. Shortly after leaving its resting ground the module snapped off a large tree branch at the Lewiston rose garden. It then caused several excessive traffic delays as it continued up highway 12. Shortly after 1:30am the module hit a guy wire near Orofino, Idaho and shut off power to 1,300 area residents for nearly 5 hours and forced a 60 minute highway closure.
The spectacle of the first module, which Imperial said would validate the shipping corridor to the tar sands, has laid bare a number of assumptions the company seems to operating under. First, their transportation plan is beyond inadequate and has proved in just one night that these megaloads cannot safely and punctually navigate a narrow highway corridor. Second, there does not seem to be any repercussion from the state for these inadequacies. One would think an ultra-weathly oil company could handle some fines for traffic delays and power outages. Third, the supposed cost-saving measure of shipping foreign made equipment through some of the wildest country in the Northwest is racking up quite the bill. Each day the modules sit and wait, and each new legal challenge that comes forward, the company is losing tens of thousands of dollars. Then again, we do not advocate they be shipping equipment or developing the tar sands at all.
As the costs mount and Imperial struggles to save face with the public there are many developments in Montana that will likely slow the shipments even further. The Missoula county commissioners, along with the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Montana chapter of the Sierra Club, filed a lawsuit against the MT Department of Transportation for their finding of “no significant impact” from a public comment period on the EIS of the shipping plan last year. The plaintiffs are seeking a temporary restraining order that will halt construction and modification of the shipping route in Montana. This will essentially halt the test module from even entering Montana, keeping it at Lolo pass indefinitely. Word on the ruling is still pending, but expected sometime in the next 24 hours.
As of Monday (4/18) morning the test module is waiting to move from its current location near Kamiah, ID. Depending upon the outcome of the temporary restraining order (TRO) they could move as soon as tomorrow and be at Lolo hot spring by thursday. Stay tuned for updates and don’t give up, victory is nigh!
Much on the disastrous start for the test module has been stated already, and can be found in these links to local media:
Missoula Independent: Whiff of Victory
Missoulian: Test Module Hits Wire
Missoulian: Weekend ruling on halting route construction
Missoulian: ExxonMobil test module to stay put
Missoulian: MDT has many reasons to deny permits