June 20, 2012 / 8:40 PM / in 6 years

Imperial drops Montana mountain pass megaload plan

(Reuters) - Imperial Oil Ltd formally withdrew a highly contested plan to truck huge loads of equipment over a mountain pass on the Idaho/Montana border, having already moved them to its Alberta oil sands project via alternative routes.

According to a court filing on Wednesday by lawyers for the Montana Department of Transportation, the MDT would not conduct any more analysis of the “megaloads” plan because Exxon Mobil-owned Imperial had pulled its application for permits.

Environmentalists who worried about the scenic route becoming an industrial corridor had fought against the plan in a local court. A judge then halted it in February, pending further environmental review by the MDT.

The Kearl Module Transportation Plan (KMTP) was originally set up to move the millions of pounds of equipment in loads up to 200 feet long, 30 feet high, and 24 feet wide — too big to make it under overpasses on the interstates.

But moving them along two-lane roads would have required construction of 75 turnouts in Montana, reinforcement of bridges, and relocation of traffic lights and utility lines along more than 300 miles of roads.

Imperial ended up breaking modules down and moving them to Canada via interstate at an estimated cost of $70 million more, compared with a $10 billion-plus price tag for the Kearl oil sands project’s first phase, which is due to start up this year.

Imperial spokesman Pius Rolheiser said the final load of equipment crossed the Canadian border on June 11.

Still, a “test module” remains stranded on the mountain pass after setting out from an inland Idaho port in early 2011 to demonstrate how Imperial planned to move all the Korean-made equipment to Canada. Imperial told the MDT that it has arranged for the demolition of that house-sized blue box.

“Imperial Oil has further advised that removal and transport of the disassembled module will be by legal loads and will not require oversize permits,” the lawyers for the MDT wrote.

The court case is County of Missoula et al vs Montana Department of Transportation and Imperial Oil Resources Ventures Ltd, in Montana’s Fourth Judicial District Court, Missoula County, No. DV-11-424.

Reporting by Braden Reddall in San Francisco; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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