Montana Judge Allows Exxon Test Module to Proceed

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A Montana judge on Monday halted work on highway upgrades for the transport of oversized oil field equipment to Canada, but he will allow an oil company to proceed with its test rig now making its way to the state from Idaho.

District Judge Ray Dayton, of Anaconda, made his ruling on a request for a temporary restraining order to halt preparations for the 30-foot loads’ passage until a lawsuit challenging the route through Montana can be heard. He set a May 16 hearing on the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction.

The Missoulian reports Dayton’s ruling prohibits the Montana Department of Transportation from burying utility lines, building new turnouts or upgrading existing ones. The slow-moving trucks would use the turnouts to allow traffic to pass when they travel at night and would use them to park during the day.

But the ruling allows transportation officials to continue modifying existing traffic signals. It also allows the test validation module to head to Lolo Hot Springs. The test shipment has sat for the past week on the side of U.S. Highway 12 near Kamiah, Idaho, but was scheduled to resume moving Monday night.

The 500,000-pound test shipment has experienced several problems since leaving Lewiston, Idaho, including snapping a power line and knocking out electricity to about 1,300 homes and businesses near Orofino, Idaho.

Missoula County and three conservation groups sued the Department of Transportation this month, arguing the agency did not adequately consider the environmental effects of transporting the equipment. They are also concerned the changes to the highways would create a permanent corridor for oversized loads.

The county and groups requested the temporary restraining order last week after the state Department of Transportation refused to halt highway upgrades.

State transportation officials in February approved the plan by Imperial Oil, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp., to ship more than 200 of the oversized rigs to the Kearl Oil Fields in Alberta over the next year.

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