(Illustration: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)
The tar sands mining project in Alberta, Canada, is possibly the largest industrial project in human history and critics claim it could also be the most destructive. The mining procedure for extracting oil from a region referred to as the "tar sands," located north of Edmonton, releases at least three times the CO2 emissions as regular oil production procedures and will likely become North America's single largest industrial contributor to climate change.
Most of the oil produced by the project will likely be consumed by the United States, a country that, along with Canada, is already heavily invested, on many levels, in the project.
The project is operated by Imperial Oil, whose parent company, ExxonMobil Canada, has a long-term production goal of more than 300,000 barrels of bitumen (extra heavy oil) per day. To do this, they will require new equipment to be shipped through the United States.
Trucks and trailers moving specialized, nontoxic mining equipment from where it is manufactured in Korea to the Kearl oil sands project, located in the Athabasca oil sands in northeastern Alberta, are slated to use highways in Idaho and Montana to transport the gear. This would happen after it has been shipped across the Pacific Ocean to Portland, Oregon, where it would then be barged up the Hood and Snake Rivers to Lewiston, Idaho, from which it would be hauled over land into Canada.
Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman for Imperial Oil, said this is the most cost-effective method of moving the equipment, much to the chagrin of many residents in these states.
The basis of most opposition to this idea is that the tar sands project will contribute so heavily toward worsening climate change. There are other criticisms as well, like those aimed at the size of the equipment to be shipped along routes that are designated "wild and scenic" highways that wind precariously through fragile ecosystems.
"We can speculate that this will have a significant impact on Bull
Trout habitat, an endangered species and on Grizzly Bear habitat, which
the EA [Environmental Agency] in Montana has noted as an issue from the
construction itself, sediment buildup, paving equipment and such," Nick
Stocks, co-founder of the group Northern Rockies Rising Tide in
Missoula, Montana, a group that promotes local, community-based
solutions to the climate crisis and takes direct action toward
confronting what it sees as the root causes of climate change, told
The "modules" from Korea comprise loads that are more than 150 feet long, approximately 30 feet high, 25 feet wide and weigh roughly 500,000 pounds. The giant trucks that will move these are from the Dutch company Mammoet (Dutch for mammoth). The rigs are so tall they do not fit under highway overpasses, are so wide they take up two traffic lanes and the estimated top speed of transporting them is 30 miles per hour. The trucks are 12 times the size of normal tractor-trailer trucks and each one has 48 tires.
Much of the designated route for transport contains only two lanes, with little or no shoulders, and would have to be modified by adding pull-out lanes, removing overhead power lines and traffic lights, as well as moving signs.
"Where are these industrial mega-rigs going to find the room to construct pullouts along the Northwest Scenic Passage Byway?" Brett Haverstick with the group Friends of the Clearwater, said to Truthout. His group is a nonprofit whose mission states that it works to "defend the Idaho Clearwater Bioregion's wildlands and biodiversity through a forest watch program, litigation, grassroots public involvement, outreach and education."
Highway 12 in Idaho runs through what is known as "Wild Clearwater Country," which is "the northern half of central Idaho's Big Wild" that "contains many unprotected roadless areas and wild rivers and provides crucial habitat for countless rare plant and animal species" according to the group.
"As it stands, the highway is only two lanes wide, with the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River hugging one shoulder and the other being right up against granite cliffs or forested lands," Haverstick, who is the education and outreach director of the group continued, "There is no place to build a pullover along many stretches of the route."
Stocks told Truthout that Imperial Oil's current plan is to have all the construction completed in time for the test run and that much of it is already occurring.
"Members of the Nez Perce tribe and individuals were kept in the dark regarding the reason behind expanding the highway, but many now feel that the expansion was driven through in preparation for this Corridor," Stocks continued, "More specifically, Idaho doesn't have the same environmental review process that Montana does where transportation issues are concerned. There has been no review of the damage that might be caused by building the equivalent of a 30 foot wide asphalt football field every two miles."
Haverstick shares similar concerns.