MISSOULA – The Canadian company whose desire to move gigantic oil equipment loads across Idaho and Montana caused about three years of legal wrangling in both states is close to producing oil.
Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil officials said the processing equipment has been assembled at the Kearl Lake Oil Sands project in northern Alberta. Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser told the Missoulian Friday that production was likely just days away.
“We are continuing to make progress toward safe completion of startup activities,” he said, without being more specific about an exact date.
Imperial Oil, a Canadian arm of ExxonMobil, initially proposed hauling more than 200 oversized loads starting from the Port of Lewiston in Idaho on U.S. 12 and Montana 200, but the proposal was protested on several fronts and in the court system in both states. Some cited the potential damage to the scenic area along the Clearwater River in Idaho as well as environmental issues along the entire route, traffic delays and a concern that it would open the area to becoming a “high-wide” corridor used by other companies. Some were also concerned about the environmental effects of an oil sands project.
The company ultimately abandoned the megaloads plan and reduced the size of the loads and shipped them via interstate to the facility that officials say will eventually have a capacity of producing 110,000 barrels of oil a day. The completion of a second phase, officials said, will boost production to 345,000 barrels a day, or about 1.4 million gallons.
Rolheiser said more than 5,000 workers are currently at the site about 300 miles north of Edmonton.
The company had expected to start producing oil by the end of 2012, but officials said the transportation problems in Idaho and Montana were factors in delaying production. Officials said delays have bumped the cost of the first phase of the project from $8 billion to $12.9 billion.
Groups in both Idaho and Montana that formed in response to Imperial Oil’s plan for moving megaloads remain opposed to oversized loads on the route that would involve approval from both the Idaho Transportation Department and the Montana Department of Transportation. Both agencies initially approved Imperial Oil’s plan, but lawsuits in both states challenged those decisions.
“We megaload opponents recognize that, as shippers like Mammoet carrying equipment for corporations like Imperial Oil continue sending inquiries to ITD and MDT about using Exxon’s planned and prepped ‘high and wide’ corridor, our fight must continue,” said Borg Hendrickson of Kooskia, Idaho.
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