ACT: Exxon Moving Tar Sands Equipment in the Northwest

Exxon is currently barging massive (as in, longer than a hockey rink and heavier than the statue of liberty) tar sands equipment up the Columbia and Snake rivers to the port of Lewiston, ID. The oil industry wants to drive these huge loads of Korean mining equipment up widened scenic northwest highways to Alberta’s tar sands, to trigger massive expansion of one of the most destructive industries on earth. (See this article for an overview of the heavy haul project).

It doesn’t seem to matter to Exxon that a federal judge has halted other shipments in their tracks in Idaho, or that concerned citizens, a U.S. Representative, and First Nation communities have voiced serious concerns about the destructive impact of the heavy hauls and the corresponding expansion of the tar sands in Alberta. Exxon thinks they can do whatever they want to increase their bottom line, even if it means blatant disregard for the will of us little people. They want to open this scenic corridor for huge, destructive traffic, and keep it open for decades to come. Such arrogance should be shocking, but unfortunately seems to be business as usual for tar sands companies.

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Heavy Hauls

Oil companies, including Exxon and ConocoPhillips, are seeking permits to ship enormous mining equipment manufactured in South Korea up the Columbia and Snake Rivers to the port of Lewiston, ID. From Lewiston, they will be loaded on heavy haul trucks and transported by road through Idaho and Montana up to the Alberta tar sands.

The largest of the rigs will be 210 feet long, 3 stories tall, 24 feet wide, and weigh 500,000 pounds, as long as a hockey rink and heavier than the Statue of Liberty. As of 2009, there had been only four trucks of almost comparable size on American highways. Those trucks averaged 130,000 pounds and traveled a total of around 78 miles. The heavy haul loads are each twice that big, and will travel almost 1000 miles. In order for the rigs to travel on the proposed route, a permanent “high and wide” corridor will have to be constructed out of northwest scenic highways, opening the route to future heavy industrial traffic.

Communities and government officials in Oregon, Montana and Idaho have already spoken out in opposition to the project. They are concerned that the traffic of these vehicles will damage the region’s tourist industry, pose a risk to public safety, and harm the fragile ecosystems that surround the proposed route. Much of the route follows the Lochsa River and traverses the Lolo National Forest and along the Nez Perce National Historic Trail, where power lines will be buried underground to allow the passage of the heavy hauls. An Idaho judge recently halted proposed heavy haul traffic on Idaho’s Highway 12. Representative DeFazio (D-OR) wrote a letter to Secretary LaHood expressing his concerns about the project.

In Oregon, the dangers associated with this project are connected to the shipments’ route up the Columbia and Snake Rivers. Wild salmon along the course of this river are already threatened by the 8 dams along the route. Young salmon face extreme challenges traveling downriver, and the proposed shipments will further impact this critical species.

On top of the impacts to Northwestern states along the heavy haul route, these shipments are intended to facilitate the growth of the Canadian tar sands industry- the dirtiest oil project in the world. The Northwest has taken great strides to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, all of which could be wiped out by the expansion of tar sands oil, destined for American markets.

Tar Sands

Tar sands oil is a sour, heavy crude with lifecycle emissions 10-30% higher than conventional oil. The planned expansion of tar sands mining would erase the greenhouse gas reductions achieved through renewable fuel standards and make it impossible for the world to meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets. Replacing 3 million barrels per day of conventional oil with tar sands is the greenhouse gas equivalent of building 40 new coal fired power plants. In addition to its greenhouse gas implications, tar sands oil is a public health threat. Tar sands oil contains, on average, 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional oil

To extract tar sands oil, companies must either strip mine boreal forest or use “in situ” techniques to pump steam underground, melt the oil, and pump it back to the surface. Both of these projects are incredibly energy intensive (in situ even more than surface mining) and both techniques destroy and fragment fragile habitats. Production of tar sands oil is between 3 and 5 times more greenhouse gas intensive than conventional oil. Waste created during extraction is deposited in toxic tailings ponds so massive they can be seen from space. Recent studies show that the toxins in these ponds are leaching into the Athabasca River and poisoning nearby First Nations communities. In June, the Syncrude tar sands company, was found guilty of the deaths of 1600 ducks that landed in one of its toxic tailings ponds.

These oil companies are aggressively pushing to create a massive network of dedicated tar sands pipelines across the United States. Keystone XL, the pipeline currently seeking a federal permit would carry highly corrosive tar sands oil across the high plains, all the way to refineries in Houston and Port Arthur. It crosses directly through the Ogallala aquifer, the drinking water supply of 6 states and the source of 1/3 of the water used for U.S. agriculture. TransCanada, the company proposing Keystone XL and operating the recently permitted Keystone I pipeline, has threatened to bring eminent domain proceedings against landowners who refuse to sell their land and is making every attempt to cut corners on safety standards.

The goal of these international oil companies is to lock the US into a fossil fuel infrastructure for decades to come. Even according to industry’s rosy projections, these pipelines can not be filled until 2025. The State Department, the department responsible for issuing a presidential permit that allows construction to begin, must not permit a pipeline that exacerbates our dependence on fossil fuels and puts the lives and livelihoods of entire communities in danger.

One Response to ACT: Exxon Moving Tar Sands Equipment in the Northwest

  1. […] Amongst these photographs are two that depict parts of the journey set to be taken by the heavy haul truck loads – ExxonMobil and Conoco-Phillips shipping equipment up to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada.  For more information on this issue visit or read the article from the Oregon branch of the Sierra Club at […]

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