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Tar Sands Megaloads Stalled

While the fight rages on against the massive Keystone XL pipeline that would bring tar sands oil from Canada through the U.S. to processing facilities, small groups in the Northwest and the Rockies celebrate a victory in their fight against the machinery that feeds the controversial tar sands.

Tar sands oil extraction involves a dirty open-pit mining process that destroys forests and poisons land, water and people, opponents say. The Canadian oil sands project is one of the largest industrial projects on Earth. According to NASA climate scientist James Hansen, producing oil from tar sands emits two to three times the global warming pollution of conventional oil.

Imperial Oil’s Kearl Module Transport Project involves massive loads of tar sands equipment — some of it the size of the Statue of Liberty laying on its side and weighing a half million pounds — being barged up the Columbia River, then trucked over rural roads in Montana and Idaho to Canada. Opponents, such as Corvallis resident Trish Weber of the coalition group All Against the Haul, have been fighting the loads, objecting both to the tar sands and to the harm the loads would cause highways, people and the environment.

A judge has ruled the Montana Department of Transportation must do a more extensive environmental review before allowing the oversized loads of oil refinery equipment to use that state’s highways. State District Judge Ray Dayton ruled that the transportation department violated the state Environmental Policy Act in signing off the megaloads. Eugene-based Western Environmental Law Center was also involved in the case.

Months before the now-disputed final version was released, EW found a draft copy of the environmental review that said the project would have “no significant impact.” 

Weber says, “Judge Dayton’s ruling is welcome, but hardly surprising, given that Imperial Oil has amply demonstrated the viability of alternate routes.” She says, “If Imperial had just chopped them up and shipped them on the interstate in the first place, it would have saved them time, money, bad press, and untold thousands fewer people would have known what the Alberta tar sands are.”

She adds, “It’s a classic case of being hoisted with their own petard and immensely gratifying to witness.”