Judge Stops Transport of Megaloads Through Western Montana

By Beacon Staff

MISSOULA – A Montana judge on Tuesday upheld a request by Missoula County and three conservation groups to stop Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil from transporting massive oilfield equipment modules through the western part of the state.

The Missoulian reports District Judge Ray Dayton of Anaconda issued his decision shortly before 5 p.m. to partially grant a preliminary injunction against the Montana Department of Transportation and the company. The judge said the transportation department erred in approving Imperial Oil’s proposal to transport 200 megaloads of processing equipment from Idaho to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, by way of U.S. Highway 12, Highway 200 and other two-lane roads in Montana.

Imperial Oil is the Canadian arm of Exxon Mobil.

Dayton agreed with the county and the other plaintiffs — the National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club — that MDT violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act because it approved an insufficient environmental assessment.

He also said the impact of turnouts constructed along the route could not be fully determined because the state transportation department could not say which ones were permanent and which ones were temporary. Meanwhile, the ruling criticized Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil for not analyzing an alternative interstate route and for hiring and relying on a private consulting firm.

Dayton said he could not rescind encroachment permits that have already been issued by MDT. But he warned that additional construction would be at Imperial Oil’s “peril” because further permitting could eventually become permanently prohibited.

Tom France, a Missoula-based attorney for the NWF, said he thought the judge hit the mark in terms of reading the law.

“While we thought we had a strong case all along, the decision certainly affirms our analysis of why the Montana Department of Transportation violated the law and it says Montana isn’t open for business unless companies are willing to comply with our laws,” he said.

Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser said the Calgary-based company was disappointed with Dayton’s ruling.

“As we’ve just received the judge’s order, we will need time to assess, understand and determine our next steps,” he said in an email to the newspaper Tuesday evening.

Dayton’s decision came two months after a three-day hearing in which Imperial Oil project manager Ken Johnson and MDT officials argued the environmental review was thorough and proper.