Posts Tagged ‘ oil sands ’

The Globalizing of North American Colonialism

The inaugural International Tar Sands Resistance Summit (ITSRS) wrapped up near Missoula last Monday, November 22, with a packed house at the Missoula City Council meeting.  As the first true snowstorm of the season coated the street outside, inside the council was voting unanimously to double the cost of hauling oversize loads through the city in reaction to community backlash against plans by oil sands companies to route equipment through Missoula.

The summit, hosted by NRRT and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) at Lubrecht Experimental Forest, mere yards from the planned path of the mammoth shipments along MT Highway 200; brought together nearly 100 activists from around the US and Canada who are concerned about tar sands development.

Ashley Anderson, of Peaceful Uprising presents in Missoula about Tar Sands mining in eastern Utah.

Workshops about tar sands issues and trainings in a diversity of tactics for resisting the industry’s growth helped connect the dots between anti-tar sands struggles in places from Oklahoma, to Montana, to northern British Columbia and elsewhere.  Speakers from communities impacted by tar sands infrastructure painted an unfortunate picture depicting a (black) gold rush in the heart of Canada with global implications.  While the eyes of the world are on the oil wars in southwest Asia, a corporate-state free-for-all is spanning North America, with Ft. McMurray, AB at “Ground Zero”.

Rapid Expansion

image by the Beehive Design Collective

The exploitation of Alberta’s bitumen (tar sand) deposits has been growing at staggering rates in recent years and foreign investment in the industry continues to swell.  Private oil companies from western Europe and the US to national oil companies from eastern Asia are buying up stake in Canada’s tar sands as supplies of conventional “sweet crude” around the world begin to dry up.  Facilitating this land-grab is a cross-continental network of pipelines and shipping corridors with which to import toxic chemicals and Brobdingnagian equipment, and to export oil to the highest bidders in the rest of the world.

The Gulf of Mexico Connection

As the largest marine oil spill in global history was dominating news headlines, many looked to the tar sands to the north as an alternative to off shore drilling.  With Canada already contributing more oil to the US than any other country in the world, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) locking Canada into an energy pact that guaranteed a minimum percentage of that country’s oil production flowing across its southern border, the United States tapped its own “wells” directly into the oil fields of Alberta.  Wells in the form of pipelines.

All angled towards the tar sands region near Edmonton, Alberta, a series of pipes up to 3ft wide criss-cross the border, feeding America’s addiction to oil.  In fact, the US has tapped into the Canadian supply so much that Canada can’t keep up.  Despite this fact, Canadian company TransCanada plans for the nearly 2000 mile long Keystone XL pipeline to connect the tar sands all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

Taking the land away… again.

The tar sands focused summit near Missoula was Oklahoma lawyer Harlan Hentges’ first excuse to visit the area.  The harsh, wintry conditions in the mountains above Montana’s Blackfoot river and the laid back, left-coastish vibe of the Missoula-area population both proved to be a bit of a shock for the third-generation Oklahoman; though he welcomed both shocks with enthusiasm.  Hentges’ comes from an area of northern Oklahoma known as the Cherokee Strip, named after the record setting run on land formerly promised by the US to the Cherokee Nation after the Trail of Tears, but which was opened by the US to white settlement in 1893.  His family has been ranching cattle there since they claimed their 160 acres in the run.

“I’m a country boy,” he says,  “so I have a strong connection to the land and understand what it means to owners.”

Farmers and ranchers all through the central plains are tied to more than their land.  They are tied to what’s under it too.  The Ogallala aquifer is the lifeblood of America’s heartland, supplying a source of irrigation for 27% of US agriculture and drinking water for 2 million people.  The Keystone XL pipeline is proposed to cross through the shallow groundwater source, worrying environmental groups that oil leaking from the pipe could have tragic consequences.  Adding to this danger is the fact that the pipe is to be built with thinner than normal pipe walls.

“When someone calls me they are concerned about one of two things,” says Hentges, who specializes in rural landowner’s issues.  “They either want to stop someone from taking away their land, or they want to stop someone from polluting it.”

These days that land-threatening someone happens to be TransCanada.  The Canadian oil-services company is trying to use the rule of eminent domain to acquire the rights-of-way it needs to run the Keystone XL down to the Gulf Coast refineries of Port Arthur, Texas.  The US government is once again taking land away from residents of the Cherokee Strip, Native and settler alike, and handing it over to a colonizer who doesn’t even want to live there.  Landowners are desperate to stop the Keystone XL, for fear that their generations-old way of life in the region is coming to an end.  Hentges remarked that in this battle against the tar sands, the environmentalists and the property-rights folks want the same thing.  “They just don’t usually know it,” he said.

Oil’s Northwest Passage

The ranchers of Oklahoma have even more in common with North America’s First Nations than a hot potato of broken promises on prairie land.  1800 miles away, British Columbia’s indigenous communities have voiced a resounding NO to plans by another tar sands company, Enbridge, to cross 700 miles of unceded coastal territory; in an effort to connect the oil supplies of northern Alberta to the Pacific Ocean.  Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would bring natural gas condensate, a chemical used to slurry bitumen, to the tar sands. A parallel pipe would bring that slurry of synthetic oil from the tar sands to the deep-sea port of Kitimat, BC.  The circuitous route of this proposed double-pipeline would send carcinogenic chemicals across three major watersheds and over a thousand streams, as well as the legitimate territories of some 50 non-consenting First Nations.

The Canadian Energy Pipeline Association has warned that the vast majority of pipeline ruptures occur due to “time-dependent failure such as external corrosion or stress corrosion cracking.”  Meaning that it’s not a matter of  if there is a spill from one of the two parallel pipelines, but when.  In one ten-year period Enbridge reported spilling 132,000 barrels of oil in over 600 spills.  Recent oil spills in Michigan, suburban Chicago and Salt Lake City could have been worse had they gone longer before being noticed.  Much of the 1400 miles of pipeline in the Northern Gateway plan would be in isolated, difficult to access regions of a mountainous and biologically-sensitive temperate rain forest.  Additionally, Enbridge has a history of neglecting safety measures that would have prevented spills, as was the case in Michigan.

The risk of spills arises from more than just the pipelines, and residents of the region remember all too well the consequences their Alaskan neighbors dealt with after allowing Exxon to operate in Prince William Sound.  The oil set to flow through the Northern Gateway is not meant to end its journey in the coastal town of Kitimat.  Up to 225 oil tankers per year, with a capacity of 2 million barrels each, would be required to navigate some of the most dangerous coastal waters in the world.  A 1990 Environment Canada analysis of the likelihood of tanker accidents occurring in Canadian waters concluded that “based on current [1990] levels of tanker traffic, Canada can expect over 100 small oil spills, about 10 moderate spills and at least one major spill offshore each year. A catastrophic spill (over 10,000 tonnes) may occur once every 15 years.”  Click to see how a spill could affect BC coastal waters.

 

Ultra Large Crude Carriers are the largest ships on Earth.

Resistance to the Enbridge Northern Gateway project goes beyond First Nations.  80% of British Columbia’s population is believed to be opposed to oil tanker traffic on the province’s coast.  Political players in Canada are fighting over both proposed and existing tanker moratoriums affecting BC’s coast.

A River Runs Through It

Why, if Canada’s Tar Sands can’t even keep up with demand for existing pipeline capacity, are oil companies spending billions to lay even more pipe?  Tar Sands companies have no intention of leaving the pipes unfilled.  The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers expects oil production from the tar sands to more than double in the next 15 years.  Currently, dozens of tar sand operations are planned or under construction in Alberta, with hundreds of other sites being explored for exploitation potential.

As the mining facilities become more numerous, they are also becoming larger.  In a business that profits in direct proportion to its ability to move the most volume of Earth that it can, bigger is better.  This applies to ordering parts, too.

Late in 2009, oil behemoth ExxonMobil quietly met with local governments in western Montana to promise great things for the small towns’ economiesThe plan was to ship some 207 things politely called “modules” through the region.  In exchange the company would spend a little money and build some parking lots, referred to as “turnouts”, in the middle of the forest.  The modules turned out to be 500,000 lb Lego pieces of a new tar sand mine in Alberta.

A three-story high coke drum waits out an expensive legal battle in Idaho.

Perhaps in the offices of tar sand giants like Exxon or Conoco, in oil-friendly cities like Edmonton, Dallas or Billings; this sounded like a fine plan.  But as with the settlers of the central plains, and the First Nations of the Pacific northwest, residents along the route of these shipments have a conflicting idea of what is good for them.

What is known today as US Hwy 12 in Idaho and western Montana, served first as the route of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark’s expedition to the Pacific.  In their time, the expedition served as a catalyst in the lives of indigenous people already living there.  So began over two centuries of illegal immigration into what in 1805 was still Indian country; first to exploit it for gold and firs, later to possess it for settlement.

Despite the legacy of colonialism in the northern Rockies, the river valleys of Idaho and Montana retain a resemblance to their pre-conquest conditions.  Grizzlies and cougars still hunt these woods, salmon still spawn in the eddies.   Missoula, MT, a small city of about 60,000 people, rubs against a federally designated wilderness area.  Visitors to town are often treated to the sight of ospreys fishing the Clark Fork river right downtown.

West across the 9000 ft Lolo pass from Missoula is the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers in Idaho.  Tourism is the leading industry, drawing $150 million into the region’s economy.  US12, the windy, two-lane mountain road through the area, is dotted with signs warning of wildlife crossings and rock slides.  Mom and pop lodging establishments cater to whitewater rafters, hunters and cross-country skiers.

When Exxon began staging  hearings along the route about their project, they were confronted by a population more concerned with protecting their communities and the land those communities rely on, than with accommodating outsiders with a far away agenda.   Injunctions, resolutions and ordinances against the tar sands heavy-hauls began keeping the modules trapped at the Port of Lewiston, costing the oil giants millions of dollars.

As much as the scenery of the northern Rockies invokes the inner environmentalist in some, so too does the region’s distance from the alienation of large cities invoke in others a demand to be seen and heard by global interests.  David is forcing Goliath to look him in the eye.

The Problem of “Foreign” Oil

Perhaps Manifest Destiny and post-WWII economic might had trained many Americans to expect to always be at the top of the economic food-chain, but for folks in this neck of the woods it seems other influences are calling the shots.  The introduction of the tar sands shipping corridor through Idaho and Montana introduced a lot of area residents to corporations they had never heard of before: Imperial, Harvest, Sung Jin, Mammoet.

The major players in Big Oil today do not hail from just Texas.  State-controlled oil companies from Europe and Asia have invested billions in Alberta’s tar sands in recent years.  Global production of crude oil is falling and demand is rising; and oil-hungry countries desperately clinging to the false-progress of industrialization are scrambling to control the last of the world’s reserves.  And just like the divvying-up of the Americas after Cristoforo Colombo got lost on his way to Japan, and the parceling out of Indian territory after US independence; the world’s wealthiest states are dividing up the last supplies of the most sought after drug on Earth without regard for the people in their way.

In particular addition to US and European corporate investment are the emerging powerhouse economies of eastern Asia.  China is buying up as much control over Canada’s tar sands as they can get away with.  Korea is taking over tar sand contracts from manufacturing to shipping, as well as operations in Canada itself, leaving US and Canadian companies in the dust and the world’s civilizations thirsting for more.

A New Wave of Colonists

Marty Cobenais is an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, co-sponsor of the International Tar Sands Resistance Summit.  He’s been working with communities along the Keystone XL’s route for the last two years, trying to prevent oil and gas companies from destroying land-based people’s homes from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  The Alberta Clipper oil pipeline passes just two miles from his office in northern Minnesota.

At the ITSRS in the mountains of Montana, Cobenais had few reservations about the strength of his words against the Tar Sands.  He feels he is fighting a war.

“You know the old military strategy of cutting off the supply chain?” Cobenais says about the burgeoning heavy-haul corridor through Montana, “Montana is the supply chain.”

He and his relations have been resisting the colonization of his country by European settlers for hundreds of years.  Now even those settlers are finding themselves under the work-boots of a new wave of colonists marching to and from the Alberta Tar Sands and are joining forces to defeat a common threat.

Northern Rockies Rising Tide wishes to extend a special Thank You to the Indigenous Environmental Network and Peaceful Uprising, co-sponsors of the inaugural International Tar Sands Resistance Summit 2010.  (Peaceful Uprising is spearheading the campaign against the PR Springs mine in eastern Utah.  PR Springs is slated to become the first commercial scale tar sand operation in the United States.)

NRRT would also like to thank all of the presenters, trainers and attendees of the ITSRS 2010; caterers Seeds of Peace, and gracious host Lubrecht Experimental Forest.

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We’re On Tour!

Please join Northern Rockies Rising Tide for a presentation about resistance in the northwest against the Tar Sands.

University of Oregon – Eugene, OR – October 6th @ 6pm

Red & Black Cafe – Portland, OR – October 12th @ 7pm

Media Island – Olympia, WA – October 14th @ 6pm

University of Idaho College of Natural Resources room 10 – Moscow, ID – October 19 @ 5:30pm

Lewis & Clark State College, Sacajewea Hall room 115 – Lewiston, ID – October 20th @ 3pm

Missoula, MT – TBA

(Further times and locations will be updated as they become known)

 

Tar Sand Trucks Chomping at the Bit

ConocoPhillips joins the parade

Four oversize loads sit waiting on trailers at Idaho’s Port of Lewiston, poised and ready to roll across the northern Rockies, save only for the final pieces of red tape.  Even as executives from Exxon and Montana Department of Transportation continue to claim that the scenic routes over Lolo and Rogers passes are not being turned into a permanent trucking corridor for the oil industry, ConocoPhillips is waiting for the final go-ahead for it’s own high/wide loads to cross the region, having already been off-loaded from barges on the Snake river.

ConocoPhillips loads at Port of Lewiston, Photo by Roger Inghram

Though headed for an oil refinery in Billings, MT rather than to the mines of Alberta directly, the four ConocoPhillips shipments are expected to be just as wide as the infamous loads slated to occur with Exxon/Imperial Oil’s Kearl Module Transport Project that is currently under environmental review.  Most preparations for the sooner shipments have been made and there is speculation that Conoco is waiting only for some bridge construction to be completed along the route before submitting final travel plans to Idaho Transportation Department.  Both ITD and regional activists plan to watch these shipments very closely.

Exxon/Imperial Oil still answering Montana comments

The public comment period for ExxonMobil/Imperial Oil’s Kearl Module Transport Project (KMT) environmental assessment closed on May 14, 2010.  So for there has been no official response from Montana Department of Transportation, stating only that the applicant (Exxon) is still responding to the over 20,000 comments submitted.  MDT received an unprecedented number of comments in the final days of the comment period, resulting in a two-day server crash at MDT and an unknown number of comments failing to be heard as a result.  Theoretically, MDT could accept Exxon’s responses and issue approval for the KMT at any moment.  For now, the silence is deafening.

Indigenous activists visit Missoula

Wednesday, June 2nd saw a flood of concerned Missoulians to the Roxy theater for a screening of the critically acclaimed documentary “H2Oil” hosted by the Missoula No Shipments Network and the Indigenous Environmental Network (movie trailer available on right-hand side of this page).  As the screening room filled up to capacity and more people continued to arrive, a second screen had to be opened for a simultaneous viewing to accommodate everyone.  Following the film, three guests took to the stage to discuss first-hand experiences with resistance to the Tar Sands.  George Poitras, former chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta spoke about that community’s experiences living downstream from the Tar Sand mines and dealing with the oil companies.  Marty Cobenais, of the Indigenous Environmental Network, discussed the campaign against tar sand pipelines to the US.  Surprise guest Winona LaDuke also took the stage briefly, somewhat distracting the event’s starstruck attendees from the subject at hand.

Bike Bloc escorts key players to people’s tribunal

Thursday, June 4th- Festivities continued in Missoula against the tar sands one day following the screening of H2Oil at the Roxy theater.  A Critical Mass Bike Ride included a bike-pulled trailer carrying “Exxon’s bed” to the Missoula office of MDT.  Upon arrival the bed, in which lied (sic) “Mr. Exxon and MDT Director Jim Lynch”, was stopped by a jubilant mob of anti-tar sand protesters who had assembled a mock court for the two climate criminals.  After some brief arguments between the judges and the accused, Lynch was found guilty of being in bed with Exxon and sentenced to get out of bed!

See the Missoulian article here.

Building resistance

Bi-weekly meetings of the No Shipments Missoula network continue to grow in size and the trend appears set to continue.  Please join us at the next meeting, June 23rd, @ 5:15pm in the back room of the Jeanette Ranking Peace Center on 2nd and S. Higgins in Missoula.  We need to keep up the pressure against these shipments!  Also, check out this new site created by the Rural People of Highway 12 for more information about the campaign to stop the trucks in Idaho.

A Walk Through the Tar Sands

The Indigenous Environmental Network, Northern Rockies Rising Tide, the National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, UM Climate Action Now, and the No Shipments Network

Formally Invite you to:

A Walk Through the Tar Sands:

A night of first hand accounts regarding the most destructive industrial project on the face of the planet

Join us Wednesday, June 2nd, for a screening of H2Oil, the internationally acclaimed documentary on the Alberta Tar Sands, followed by a presentation by Marty Cobenais, head of the Indigenous Environmental Network’s campaign against Tar Sands pipelines, along with George Poitras, former chief of the Fort Chipewyan Tribe, one of the communities suffering the direct and disastrous effects of Alberta’s oil sands mining.

Wednesday, June 2nd, 6:00PM

Roxy Theater, 718 S. Higgins Av, Missoula, MT

The Alberta Tar Sands constitute the largest portion of U.S. imported oil. They have also been called out in the international community as the most destructive industrial project on the face of the planet. This fall, Missoula could play host to the creation of an industrial shipping corridor that would serve Tar Sands mines for decades to come. Come learn from people with first hand experience with the Tar Sands operations and their effects on the local communities of northern Alberta. There are many reasons to oppose the proposed corridor, and to be informed of issues across the border is to be more powerful in our fight at home.

Marty Cobenias is a longtime native activist with the Indigenous Environmental Network and currently works out of Minnesota on IEN’s campaign opposing proposed Tar Sands pipelines.

George Poitras is the former chief of the Fort Chipewyan tribe and has spoken to the international community about the devastation of the Alberta Tar Sands. Fort Chipewyan resides just downstream of the Tar Sands mines. The residents of the community, mostly Cree First Nations, Dene First Nations, and Metis people suffer from exceedingly high rates of rare cancers, and have taken a strong stand against the up-river mines.

H2Oil is the internationally acclaimed documentary on the devastating effects of Tar Sands mining on the land and the people, and specifically the challenges that Canada’s First Nations people face in trying to find justice in their struggle against the mines.

For more information contact: noshipmentsmissoula@googlegroups.com

______________________________________________________________________

Also, on June 5th

Grammy Award Winning Indigo Girls and Acclaimed Native activist Winona LaDuke appear in Pablo with local and regional activists to raise awareness for a clean energy future

A panel entitled “Environmental Justice in Montana:  Protecting the Land for Future Generations” will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 5 at the Johnny Arlee/Victor Charlo Theatre at the Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Mont.
The event will call for increased resistance to fossil fuels and full investment in clean energy across Indian Country and the United States.

Native activist Winona LaDuke will moderate the panel, which includes four dynamic speakers:

  • Eriel Deranger from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations of Canada, speaking on the impacts of tar sands oil development;
  • Gail Small of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation, who will talk about her community’s ongoing struggle to stop coal development;
  • Francis Auld, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes cultural preservation officer will address sacred sites;
  • Rich Janssen, acting director of the CSKT Natural Resource Department will address environmental concerns of the Flathead Reservation.

Environmental Justice Panel

With

Eriel Tchekwie Deranger, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations of Northern Alberta, Rainforest Action Network’s Freedom From Oil Campaigner;

Gail Small, Native Action, Executive Director,

Francis Auld, CSKT cultural preservation;

Rich Janssen, CSKT Acting Director of Natural Resources.

Topics: Alberta tar sands oil, transportation of oil, coal extraction, coal bed methane and the connection between natural resources exploitation and poverty.

Moderated by Winona LaDuke

Short performance by Indigo Girls

1:30 p.m.

Johnny Arlee/Victor Charlo Theatre

Salish Kootenai College

58138 U.S. Highway 93 (theater first turn on right as you enter campus from south)

Pablo, Mont. 59855

Come to the Missoula City Council Hearing!

Monday, May 10th

Missoula City Council Chambers (140 W. Pine St)

7pm

So, some of you have already received the email, but this is important! This Monday, May 10 (tomorrow), the Missoula City Council will make a decision concerning the resolution that will act as their public comment to the Montana Department of Transportation regarding the Tar Sands Shipments.

We need everyone we can get to go to the hearing and request that the strongest possible language be used regarding issues posed in the resolution. We need to encourage City Council member to reintroduce language regarding climate change and the negative impacts that mining the Tar Sands will have on the future on Montana and the world.

Most of all, we need to support the members of the city council who are willing to take a stand against the shipments, and let the DOT know that their review of the damages these shipments will bring has been myopic at best.

If you cant come, and you’d like some advice on how to word you comment to the DOT regarding these shipments, look slightly to you right. Attorney Robert Gentry is in a video discussing some of the problems with the EA, and we have an example of a comment letter that you can send in yourself.

Other than that,

we hope to see you tomorrow, 7pm, Missoula City Council Chambers.

Schweitzer Waves White Flag on Big Rigs

(reposted from 4&20 Blackbirds) (we hope they’re not angry)

By JC

super sized

It seems that in lieu of any rational economic development proposals from Governor Brian Schweitzer (D-Imperial/Exxon) to mitigate the impacts of the collapse of the housing construction (timber) industry and Stone Container, it is best to lay down and let another multinational corporation walk all over us:

“If I could wave a magic wand and get Stone Container open again and get the timber industry going again, I’d do that,” Schweitzer said Friday. “In lieu of that, $68 million worth of road work and flaggers and utility work along the highways – I guess we’ll take it. It’s $68 million worth of jobs [associated with the Kearl big rig project].”

Well, no. 32 million of those 63 million oil dollars are the cost of transport. Not jobs or mitigation costs. Those are dollars paid to out of state/country employees to move the dang things–not jobs for locals. Never mind that the project will disrupt traffic along highways 12 and 200 in western Montana, and create safety hazards and emergency response nightmares. It’s full speed ahead, damn the EA:

“[Schweitzer] scoffed at fears that western Montana will become a permanent vessel for big rigs to the Canadian oil fields and elsewhere.

“That’s not the proposal at all,” he said. “This is temporary for 200 loads and nobody’s proposed a permanent corridor. That’s why it’s an (environmental assessment) and not an (environmental impact statement).”

Except, Governor Big Oil, Exxon did “Propose to create permanent ‘High/Wide Corridor’s through Montana”, as revealed in this MDOT presentation prepared by MDOT Director Jim Lynch last July:
permanent corridor

Of course, in the another quote from him in the Missoulian article, he contradicts himself by saying he’ll try harder the next time a proposal like this comes along:

The governor said he pitched hard – “but I’ll pitch even harder next time” – to see that the equipment to be hauled through the state is built “in some place like Great Falls or Cut Bank or Havre, as opposed to being built in Korea.”

So you say we need an EIS if it is going to be a permanent corridor? Then you’d better order Exxon and MDOT to get to work on an EIS. Or are you just a liar? How dumb do you think we are that you think we can’t read and put 2+2 together???

Even Missoula’s City Council recognizes the falsehoods behind those who want to dismiss this project as a one-off needing just an EA, and have prepared a resolution dated May 10th, 2010 that one would assume would be presented to City Council soon:

WHEREAS, the construction required for these large loads will create a permanent high/wide corridor through Montana and Missoula that will attract the interest of additional oversize trucking projects destined for Alberta, as set forth in the draft Environmental Assessment’s (EA) Past, Present and Reasonably Foreseeable Impacts section and in MDT Director Jim Lynch’s 2009 “Proposed High and Wide Corridors Briefing” to a Montana Legislature committee; and

WHEREAS, the draft EA’s Purpose of the Project does not address the creation of a permanent corridor to serve future oversize;

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, the Missoula City Council hereby declares that complying with the spirit and letter of MEPA and NEPA will require environmental review taking the form of a programmatic joint EIS under MEPA and NEPA and urges MDT to begin such a process in cooperation with affected or involved federal agencies, fully involving the public and exhaustively evaluating the impacts of creating a permanent high/wide commercial transportation corridor from the Port of Vancouver to the Alberta tar sands.

PASSED AND ADOPTED this 10th day of May, 2010.

So folks, get out there and make sure this resolution passes City Council, and get on Schweitzer’s case about his blatant lying here.

And the Clark Fork Coalition noted in its Take Action bulletin that:

“The Port of Lewiston anticipates that “If one oil company is successful with this alternate transportation route, many other companies will follow their lead.” It is obvious that this route is planned to be a permanent industrial corridor to be in use for the forseeable future.”

Somebody needs to get his head out of Imperial/Exxon’s ass the sand and call for a full blown EIS.

Missoulians take ExxonMobile to task over Tar Sand supply route

Video of Jim Hepburn’s public comments
Video of Barbara Hall’s public comments
Video of Summer Nelson’s public comments

Hundreds of residents of western Montana packed the bleachers of Meadow Hill Middle School gymnasium on a rainy Thursday evening in Missoula this week, but the reason for such turnout was hardly a game.  Ostensibly a public hearing regarding the recently released Environmental Assessment (EA) for ExxonMobile/Imperial Oil’s plan to transport massive pieces of equipment from Korea to Canada’s tar sand mines in Alberta along a route which would bring these shipments through the northern Rockies and the city on Missoula, the April 29th meeting appeared in some ways to be more a display of corporate theater.  Though hosted by the Montana Department of Transportation (MDT) as a part of the EA’s public comment process, state officials huddled in the corner of the room half hidden by the bleachers, while executives from Exxon/Imperial, TetraTech and Fluor corporations sat center-stage, ready to clear up citizens’ confusions and ease concerns.  Beginning with what was to be a pleasant question and answer period, to be followed up by routine comments for the EA’s official record proving MDT’s duty to the public, Ken Johnson of Imperial Oil smiled politely as the first questioner stepped up to the microphone.  Fortunately we here in the inland northwest are not so naive as they likely hoped.

Welcome to Missoula, Mr. Johnson.  Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.

One after another, for four hours, concerned residents of the northern Rockies grilled the energy executives on their proposed transport plan, demanding answers regarding everything from how these over-sized loads would affect emergency services’ response times, air and noise pollution in residential neighborhoods, water quality in endangered species habitats, the local economy, and of course global climate.

“Montanans are incredible people, I grew up here and I am constantly amazed by the strength and intelligence I encounter on a daily basis.  The release of this EA with a finding of no significant impact seems insulting to that intelligence,” said Geneveive Schroeder, one of the Rising Tide activists arrested during a sit-in at a meeting of the Montana Land Board in Helena, March 18th.

Missoulian Robbie Liben had to ask the panel his questions several times due to the executives either evasion of an answer or their inability to provide one.  Inquiring about contingency plans in the event of an accident such as a load turning over into one of the many scenic rivers alongside of which the giant trucks intend to travel, each panel member responded with a simple denial that such a thing could happen.  “We do not forsee such an event occurring,” Johnson muttered repeatedly.

“Am I correct then in understanding that you do not have a plan?” Liben asked, eliciting a long silence as the corporate speakers exchanged awkward looks.  One could almost hear the crickets chirping.

“Yes,” replied Imperial Oil’s Ken Johnson as the triumphant crowd exploded in applause.

Several other speakers confronted MDT’s director Jim Lynch on the overall scope of the project which involves two U.S. borders, four U.S. states, corporations from at least five countries, and global climate change causing tar sands development. The facts that construction on highway modifications in Idaho have already begun without any public input or environmental review, that MDT and Port of Lewiston reports have marked this project as establishing a permanent high-wide corridor to the tar sands, or the effects of this project on the Earth’s climate due to its role in expanding the tar sand industry were all summarily dismissed.

The officials seem to see no evil, hear no evil, speak much evil.

“We are here to discuss only Exxon’s proposal to move these loads through Montana,” Johnson and MDT director Jim Lynch both stated, an assertion they were forced to repeat several times with increasing defensiveness as more and more Montana residents expressed their disgust with the limited scope of the EA.  It rapidly became clear than the attendees could see through MDT and Exxon’s cynical ploy to make this highly destructive project appear benign by segmenting it to such a disingenuous level.

“By filing EAs on a state to state basis,” said Schroeder, “Idaho was ignored as their laws allow for a circumvention of assessment of damage.  Most of the construction has already been completed in Idaho, without public knowledge that it was for this project.  It has disrupted local business and caused people in that section of the route to feel voiceless and trampled upon.  The Port of Lewiston has been expanded using federal [stimulus] money, with very specific modifications that fit the needs for this equipment.  The document describing the Port of Lewiston expansion also includes descriptions of several other future shipment projects which will follow the same route, proving that this will not be a one time use corridor.”

Missoula’s Max Granger, another of the activists arrested during the Helena sit-in,  spoke on behalf of Northern Rockies Rising Tide:

As an organization dedicated to confronting the root causes of climate change  and promoting a just transition to a sustainable, low-carbon economy, it is our opinion that this environmental assessment profoundly underestimates the local, regional, and global impacts of the project under consideration.

This EA, prepared by a corporation [TetraTech] with a vested interest in rubber stamping  Exxon-Mobile’s proposed exploitation of our state’s resources and roadways, glosses over or flat-out ignores the immense impacts of these shipments on our social and ecological environment, while highlighting the supposed local benefits they will bring to Montana; benefits which are questionable at best, and in any case will be utterly negated by the shipments’ adverse effects.

Limiting the scope of this EA to the 200 plus trucks traveling between Lolo pass and the Port of Sweetgrass ignores the fact that this project is intended to establish a permanent high and wide corridor through Idaho and western Montana–transforming what was once a treasured scenic byway into an industrial transport route which will facilitate the shipment of tar sands and other strip mining equipment for decades to come. The long-term impacts of this proposal on Montana roadways, communities, and environment, which are not even mentioned in the EA, must, for legal as well as ethical reasons, be considered.

By law, environmental assessments must take into account what are known as secondary impacts. Considering the intense and vast breadth of this project, limiting the scope of this EA to the space between the white lines of the highway and from border to border is not only absurdly myopic, but demonstrates a degree of dis-ingenuousness and contempt one might expect from the likes of Exxon-Mobile, not from a state institution entrusted with the public good [MDT].

But perhaps the greatest so-called secondary impact is the giant, dirty elephant in the room: the Alberta tar sands. The extraction of unconventional oil from the tar sands of northern Alberta constitutes, according to leading research climatologist James Hansen, one of the greatest threats to life on Earth today. The vast strip mining operations around Ft. McMurray are the single worst point of origin for climate change causing greenhouse gas emissions in the world–and the devastating repercussions of global climate change, as is becoming increasingly clear, do not recognize national or state boundaries. That is to say: the mining of oil sands in Alberta has a direct and increasingly detrimental effect on the ecological and economic environment of Montana, an effect which is completely absent from the analysis of impacts in the EA.

As corporations like Exxon exploit increasingly unconventional and increasingly dirty hydrocarbon resources, temperatures continue to rise and the Earth’s climate becomes increasingly unstable. Global warming is already having severe impacts on Montana’s agricultural industries as weather and precipitation patterns change, on Montana’s forestry industry as beetle infestations and droughts kill vast tracts of wilderness, on Montana’s tourism industry as the glaciers and snow-capped peaks–the quintessence of our wild and scenic state–disappear before our very eyes, and on the broader ecological stability of Montana’s environment as watersheds suffer reduced flows, invasive plant species thrive in harsher landscapes, and urban settlements struggle with diminished and degraded resources. The current and predicted effects of climate change on Montana are so dauntingly direct that to call this impact “secondary” is quite an understatement–to not even recognize it as an impact is inconceivably obtuse.

Northern Rockies Rising Tide opposes this proposed permit. We demand that this EA be rejected in its current form, that a full Environmental Impact Statement be issued before any further consideration of this project occurs, and that the current comment period on this EA be extended for more thorough public involvement and consideration.

Montana’s state constitution guarantees a clean and healthy environment for all Montanans. We believe that allowing Exxon-Mobile to exploit Montana roads and resources at the expense of the state’s taxpayers and citizens–all in order to make it cheaper for a few wealthy oil executives to continue destroying the planet–runs counter to this constitutional intent. I believe we are echoing a growing sentiment when we say: Montanans are neither obliged nor inclined to act as the servants of callous transnational mega-corporations like Exxon-Mobile, and we refuse to be complicit in their crimes.

Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this hearing for some though was the implication of government officials tucked away in the corner while the corporate giants essentially spoke on the state’s behalf.  When NRRT’s Nick Stocks spoke to the public record specifically about this project’s relationship to climate change, he joined several speakers before and after him in turning the microphone to the side to directly address the state officials for whom this forum was supposedly meant to benefit, ignoring the assembled company reps.

“In the current atmosphere of emerging federal climate policy, after federal judges have recognized the need to include carbon emissions within the scope of permitting processes in Montana,” said Stocks, “while the federal EPA realizes the need for stricter carbon emission standards, and while communities across the country vocalize their discontent concerning the current climate status quo, it seems to me to be unconceivable (sic) that the Montana Department of Transportation, in reviewing this Environmental Assessment, would come to the conclusion that concerns regarding carbon emissions that contribute directly to climate change don’t bear mentioning.”

Other commenters included representatives from the University of Montana’s Climate Action Now, National Wildlife Federation, Lochsa River Conservancy, and the Clark Fork Coalition.

Nearly all of the commenters requested in one form or another that MDT extend the public comment period and/or move on to a more comprehensive federal Environmental Impact Statement.  The decision, though completely MDT’s, may be influenced by Missoula’s strong message to ExxonMobile: Go home, and take your tar sands with you!

Unless an extension is granted, the public comment period officially ends on May 14th, 2010.  The time to speak out is right now!  Written comments can be submitted to MDT  online at:

mdtcommentskearl@mt.gov

or on paper to:

Tom Martin
Montana Department of Transportation
PO Box 201001
Helena MT 59620-1001

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