Oil Spill Prompts National Resistance to Exxon’s Montana Tar Sands Shipments

As cleanup workers struggle to recover and clean ExxonMobil’s 42,000 gallon Yellowstone River slick, the oil company’s controversial bid to create a permanent industrial corridor through Montana and Idaho’s Highway 12 is drawing new fire from concerned citizens around the country joining local residents in their fight.

Highway 12 is one of only 120 National Scenic Byways, a windy mountain two-lane road passing through national forests and along Lewis and Clark’s historic route. Exxon is pressing forward with its “megaloads” program — a succession of hundreds of larger-than-life (three-story high, 200-foot long) trucks that carry refining equipment to Alberta that would help to increase America’s consumption of oil from Canada’s dirty tar sands fields.  

(Seeing is believing – click here for a video on Exxon’s proposal, and here for pictures of what similar trucks look like).

“Exxon promised the public that floodwaters would not impact their pipeline below the Yellowstone River. The company also assured us that there was no chance of a ‘megaloads’ accident along Highway 12,” said Zack Porter of All Against the Haul, a Missoula-based grassroots coalition of rural residents, truckers, ranchers, outfitters, and guides fighting the megaloads project. “Both claims proved to be false, and the public deserves a full accounting of the potential costs associated with Exxon’s plans for Idaho and Montana’s roadways and river corridors.” 

This month, Montanans have already witnessed on full display ExxonMobil’s capacity to hide the truth. The company, for example, lied about how far the Silvertip pipeline was buried under the Yellowstone River (5-8 ft, not 12 ft); was horribly wrong in previous assurances that flood waters could not impact the pipeline; and claimed to the press the spill had lasted 30 minutes—it’s duration was actually one hour. 

Exxon’s string of broken promises about the “megaloads” continues to grow longer. Despite claims of absolutely no accident risks, Exxon’s first shipment – a “test module” – snapped wires and cut power to 1,300 residents and blocked two-way traffic for an extended period of time along the sole emergency service route to towns in rural Idaho. In addition, after claiming there were no possible alternative routes to the one proposed, Exxon has begun reducing the size of its modules for transport on larger and safer Interstate highways. Still there are other routes as well, including rail options from ports in Canada.

If Exxon’s trucks are allowed to roll on Highway 12, other companies will also want bring their trucks and the historic route could become a permanent industrial corridor. 

“More than 7,000 people in the Rocky Mountain region and across the country have joined local opposition on Change.org in calling on Idaho and Montana officials—including Governor Schweitzer—to stop Exxon’s mega-haul across this treasured American landscape,” said Jess Leber, environment editor of Change.org. “Prior to the spill, Exxon Mobil got away with questionable assurances. Change.org is glad to assist in elevating the collective voice of resistance to this Exxon project.” 

Currently, there is a pending lawsuit demanding a detailed Environmental Impact Statement under Montana’s state law, as well as a federal suit requesting additional review by the federal U.S. Forest Service and Federal Highway Administration in Idaho. Similarly, this situation should give pause to Idaho Transportation officials who could decide in the next 1-2 months whether to permit Exxon’s “megaloads” in the Idaho portion of Highway 12. 

Megaload opponents fear that if this project goes forward, many other corporations will follow Exxon’s lead.  At least 5 other companies have expressed interest in transporting massive loads to Alberta’s Tar Sands along scenic Highway 12.

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