Work is moving forward on an $8 billion oil sands mining project in Alberta, Canada, even though the equipment may be stalled by a legal roadblock in Idaho.
The Kearl oil sands mine is a joint venture being built by Imperial Oil and ExxonMobil about 40 miles north of Fort McMurray. Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser told the Lewiston Tribune that the first phase of the mine is set to begin operating at the end of 2012, with an initial daily production capacity of 110,000 barrels of bitumen.
Rolheiser says about 2,500 people are working on the Alberta site. The company hopes to begin hauling more than 200 oversized shipments of needed oil equipment along Idaho's Highway 12 later this year — and Idaho residents, environmentalists, businesses and others have heavily opposed that plan.
Those opponents recently sued to block four similar oversized loads destined for an oil refinery in Montana. It's unclear if that will affect Imperial's shipments, which haven't yet received approval from the state.
Under the plan, the Imperial would haul an estimated 200 truckloads of heavy Korean-made oil equipment from the Port of Lewiston to Alberta. Officials estimate each load will weigh more than 300 tons, reach 27 feet high and stretch 29 feet wide, taking up both lanes of the highway.
"Those modules form part of the extraction plant," Rolheiser said. "They don't contain any hydrocarbons or chemicals at this point. Until they arrive on site you can think of them as big pots and kettles."
Opponents fear U.S. 12 might become the standard route for big loads heading to the region. Rolheiser says Imperial has no further plans to ship additional equipment to Lewiston.
But he also said the company purchased the equipment from a manufacturer in South Korea that specializes in that type of equipment. With five active strip mines in the oil sands region today, and seven more planned over the next decade, it's possible that other companies could make the same decision.
Alberta Department of Energy spokesman Bob McManus declined to speculate on the likelihood that future mines will follow Imperial's procurement lead. The existing extraction plants were all manufactured in Edmonton, he said, or assembled there after the components were shipped in by rail.
"Heavy, oversized loads normally begin here (in Edmonton)," McManus said. "To ship them from South Korea to Lewiston and then up, that's a first."
Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com