Thursday, July 01, 2010


 Many folks in two states known as hotbeds of leftwing protest, Idaho and Montana, are pissed that huge trucks going back and forth to the proposed tar sands earth destruction in Canada will be passing through their neighborhoods.

The loads are expected to be 16 to 24 feet wide and weigh from 263,300 to 580,000 pounds...
or more. Hell, one load that is coming up from the port of Houston and began its passage through Montana on Wednesday is 20 feet wide, slightly more than 20 feet tall and 290 feet long. It has 90 tires on 24 axles and weighs 917,000 pounds -- so heavy that two trucks are attached to the rear to help push it along. These trucks currently are hauling the gargantuan equipment needed to process oil sands at a project in Saskatchewan.

By the way, as Nick Geir wrote at New West, "Extracting hydrocarbons from crude oil and coal has always been a dirty business, but tar sands processing releases three to four times the greenhouse gases that conventional drilling does. Alberta’s tar sands, whose 175 billion barrel reserve is second only to Saudi Arabia, requires 220 gallons of fresh water to produce one barrel of oil. The slurry is cooked using natural gas, consuming in one day what it takes to heat 3 million homes. "


Protest shows how big oversized loads will be

Yes, Missoula's Robert E. Lee is 62 years old.
"Soon to be 63," he noted early Wednesday evening.
No, the writer/poet who was named after a certain Confederate general wasn't out of place in a crowd of some 80 demonstrators along Reserve Street at rush hour. All were trying to draw attention to the pending onslaught of oversized shipments rolling through Idaho and Montana destined for oil projects east and north.
Established novelists and musicians, retired professors and librarians, politicians and a stray archaeologist were among those on hand to wave signs and block Missoula's busiest street for 30 seconds at a time at the crosswalk by C.S. Porter Middle School.
"I'd say the average age is not anywhere near college age," Lee said. "We're up there."
"Where's the tear gas?" joked Cherie Garcelon of Arlee, a veteran of Vietnam War protests.
Reserve Street is the proposed corridor for the super-sized loads of oil equipment bound from Idaho's Port of Lewiston to, in the near future, the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings and, starting in the fall, northeastern Alberta - where Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil is gearing up to begin production in the tar/oil sands near Kearl Lake.
The demonstrators' beefs ran the gamut from the exploitation of Montana roads, to the eco-unfriendly nature of the Canadian fields, to a sense of betrayal by state officials.
"You know, our governors don't know how to be on the take properly," moaned Darrel Armstrong, the archaeologist. "They settle for crumbs."
Thousands of cars, trucks and SUVs - and at least one oversized load - streamed by during the 75-minute event.
Morgen Hartford of Lolo, who at 28 was one of the younger protesters present, saw middle fingers, downturned thumbs and revving, threatening engines at the stoplight. But there were far more honks and other signs of support, he added.
Armstrong spent his time making sure the "walk" button at the crosswalk was punched regularly as traffic backed up for blocks on both sides of the light. Others toting a 24-foot-long sign signifying the width of many of the big rigs hurried into the middle of the street at each red light.
Local musician Carla Green orchestrated the stretching of ropes 210 feet long along the curb. That represented the length of many of the tractor-trailer rigs. Balloons were present, but no one came up with a good way to demonstrate the concept of loads nearly 30 feet high. Some pointed out that the signal lights stopping traffic were lower than that, and will have to be fitted with swinging arms to let the loads through.
The transport projects weren't sprung on the public until recently, Green said. "We don't have time to do anything but grassroots."
This was the second demonstration against the big rig project in Missoula. The first, in early June, drew some 60 people to the Missoula office of the Montana Department of Transportation.
Zack Porter, organizer and publicist for No Shipments Missoula, manned a bullhorn and led anti-Big Rig and anti-Tar Sands chants throughout the evening.
The timing of this was critical, he said. The first two of four ConocoPhillips shipments to Billings are set to leave Lewiston, perhaps as early as next week. But work was still ongoing Wednesday on a bridge east of Lewiston that will have to bear the loads, which will take four nighttime moves along the Clearwater and Lochsa rivers just to get to Montana at Lolo Pass on U.S. Highway 12.
Neither the Idaho nor the Montana transportation departments have issued permits for either the ConocoPhillips or Imperial Oil shipments.
Dwane Kailey of MDT said his department won't give a go-ahead until Idaho does, since the Gem State must handle them first. Imperial Oil is still assessing and addressing the more than 7,000 public comments it received in an environmental assessment required by the Montana Department of Transportation. None of those have been forwarded to his department for review, Kailey said.
The ConocoPhillips loads of giant coke drums didn't require an environmental assessment, since there are only four of them. What they do need is to satisfy a checklist of 14 points of impacts. Imperial Oil had the same checklist, and they led to the decision by MDT to call for the environmental assessment.
"With Conoco, it's a lot more drawn out because of the number of yesses that they checked on the checklist," Kailey said. "The biggest issue is the impact to traffic - we require a traffic control plan - and utility impact."
One of the latter issues is the impact to Missoula Electric Cooperative customers who face loss of power when the oil drums come down Highway 12 along Lolo Creek.
"We require they reach out to their customers, identify what impacts this shutdown will have on them, and then identify what if any mitigation is required and/or appropriate," Kailey said. "We're in the process of resolving that."
There are also some detours onto local streets in Helena, Lewistown and Billings that have to be checked out and approved by local officials.
Meanwhile, Missoula-area activists vow to do what they can to halt the shipments in advance.
"We're not delusional in the sense that this is a big enough challenge to block these trucks coming through Montana," Porter said. "We know there are other routes already in use, and in fact that's one of the arguments that all of us have been making. We know they'll just go another way.
"Really our focus is local. We're certainly opposed to tar sands development, but first and foremost we don't want these trucks coming through our neck of the woods."
Reporter Kim Briggeman can be reached at 523-5266 or at

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