Imperial Oil (you couldn’t make up a name like that) has contracted with the Dutch company Mammoet (meaning “mammoth,” another apt name) to transport giant machines from South Korea through Idaho and Montana to Canada’s Athabaskan tar-sands project in Alberta.
Imperial, which is 69.6 percent owned by ExxonMobil, has proposed to Montana that an initial round of 200 giant machines creep through the state almost daily and nightly for a year. Some of the machines weigh 334,000 pounds and measure 24 feet wide by 30 feet tall by 160 feet long.
The proposed route would avoid any overpasses or underpasses, eliminating the need for complicated and pricey reconstruction projects. But it would require giant new highway turnouts, scheduled to be built before the trucks start traveling late this fall.
Imperial is speed-rushing a permit through the Montana Department of Transportation (MDOT). Montana decided that this was not a federal issue, that there was insufficient controversy for it to be considered for federal review. (By what formal means this decision was made is unclear.) The state opted to evaluate the proposal with a quick and easy Environmental Assessment, rather than a federal Environmental Impact Statement. Montana then contracted with Imperial Oil to produce that assessment, which declared there would be no impact.
The machines would be shipped from South Korea to Vancouver, Wash., then barged up the Columbia River to the inland port of Lewiston, Idaho, where they would then begin their dryland sojourn up the historic Lolo Pass, along the fabled steps of Lewis and Clark, and the winding recreational corridor of the beautiful Lochsa River.
The desolate Montana border crossing of Sweetgrass is the goal of the advancing army of Mammoet. From there, the monster machines would make it to the sanctity of Canada, where the government is condoning the largest and most destructive surface mining in the world.
The terror of the tar sands
Tar-sands operations extract oil by squeezing and boiling and steaming heavy tar out of porous sands, like wringing a sponge. Due to the steam and water and fuel involved, tar-sands oil results in 45 percent more carbon emissions than oil from traditional drilling.
There are nearly 2 trillion barrels of tar-sands oil lying beneath Alberta — which is being bladed away, mile by mile, as we dig to get at those sands. It’s a liquidation, in every sense of the word. But, as with coal, the true cost of the resource is not being measured or accounted for. ExxonMobil benefits, as do its lesser partners, but everyone else carries the oil companies’ externalized costs, now and forevermore.
Take the First Nations people of Canada. A number of them are being displaced by the mining, and are “suffering all the hallmarks of industrial poisoning, everything from birth defects to environmentally linked cancers — in heartbreaking proportions,” says Missoula attorney Bob Gentry.
The tar sands’ footprint is so huge that some have called the project the biggest environmental crime in history. The ecological damages include gigantic mine pits, ponds of toxic mine waste, destruction of the world’s largest intact forest, and threats to populations of birds and other animals.
Montana rolls over
The governor of Montana, Brian Schweitzer (D), appears willing to squander the state’s singular reputation as an idyllic vacation spot, free from the congestions of traffic and stress that other travelers expend so much effort to escape, and to green-light the loads of Mammoet in all seasons.
Schweitzer insists that this is just a one-time deal, that these 200 trucks will be the beginning and end of the tar sands’ traffic, even while at the same time touting Montana, and the proposed industrial highway expansions, as an energy corridor. “Montana is in the middle of one of the most important energy corridors on the planet,” Schweitzer says, “not just because we have wind energy and we have oil and gas and coal, but because our neighbors have all of those as well. In order to produce energy, you need to transfer energy.”
Schweitzer claims that nothing has been said about making this into a permanent industrial corridor. But a memo from his highway director, Jim Lynch, states that ExxonMobil began petitioning the state for the expansion last July, calling the route the “High/Wide Corridor,” and that the company desired “a very aggressive schedule” of construction.