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“No, you’re not imagining things — that is a log truck dwarfed on the right. Although this load does not show the actual equipment Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil Canada or Conoco Phillips plans to ship via U.S. 12 in 2010-2011, its size is comparable.” (courtesy “No, you’re not imagining things — that is a log truck dwarfed on the right. Although this load does not show the actual equipment Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil Canada or Conoco Phillips plans to ship via U.S. 12 in 2010-2011, its size is comparable.” (courtesy

Big rigs of the Loscha

There is a helluva’ story unfolding to the south of us. It has every element of a great tale. International intrigue, possible political scandals, conflict between the little guy and the big bully—the only thing missing is a sex angle. The location is wild and mountainous with the fast-running Clearwater and Lochsa rivers forming tight valleys. A curvy two-lane highway was built and dedicated to be a recreational corridor. Along this highway are folks who earn their livelihood from the recreational opportunities these Idaho mountains provide; fishing lodges, Bed & Breakfasts, raft companies, guest cabins, outfitters; small fry family businesses.  

Ah, but unbeknownst to these country folk, one of the world’s largest multi-national oil companies, Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil, developed a business model—based on cheap Asian labor—that requires use of this very two-lane highway to transport equipment from the port of Lewiston to their Alberta tar sands operation. They plan to truck over two hundred loads next year.

You might ask yourself ‘Isn’t this why Ike developed the interstate highway system—to haul big pieces of equipment?’ Well, there is big and there is humongous. These oil processing machines are thirty feet high, twenty-four wide with total length of two-hundred and twenty five feet. The weight is three hundred tons. Thirty feet is too tall to fit under some of the interstate overpasses and presents a physical problem. Twenty-four feet wide is too wide for a two-lane highway, but that is only a public relations problem for powerful oil companies.

Apparently confident that the over-size permits from the Idaho Transportation Department were a slam dunk, Conoco/Phillips barged four huge coke drums to Lewiston. 

Problems floated away on the fumes of JOBS. Expansion of Lewiston Port! Power lines to be raised! Turnouts to be constructed! Flagmen! Idaho Governor Butch Otter stated in the Lewiston Tribune that “impact to the highway won’t be any more than a one-ton pickup.”  Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is dazzled by one-time construction jobs. Looked like a win/win to the politicians and oilmen.

Ah, but some regular people got wind of the mega loads coming their way. They got a few neighbors together and requested a further look at a scheme that would block their highway. They created a website fightinggoliath.org. Their interest alerted people in Montana. The big rigs would travel through Missoula and up the treasured Blackfoot River, over Rogers Pass, then north along the Front Range to the Sweetwater border crossing. Local protest groups formed. 

With the threat of an unruly public, the oil companies turned up the heat. The public relations spin has been typical. Montana State Senator Barry Stang accuses ‘outside interests’ of trying to damage Montana business. (Does he mean the outfitter in Idaho? How about the oil executive in Calgary?) The President of Montana Chamber of Commerce, Webb Brown, lobbies for the industrial haul corridor as a boon for business. Conoco/Phillips claims they will have to lay off refinery workers and that gasoline prices will rise if they can’t get their equipment to Billings. (These are replacement drums that aren’t yet needed.) Conoco/Phillips has hired a Boise lobbyist firm to work with Idaho legislators and is attempting to collect damages because their big coke drums are still sitting at the port. They brought a bus load of employees from Billings to Boise to testify in favor of the mega-load route.

We have learned that politicians need corporate support, and should not be disappointed that both Montana’s governor and Idaho’s governor are voting with Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil and Conoco/Phiilips.  But it is disappointing, yet again, to see how easily money can dictate public opinion. 

Darlene working the cash register at a Montana truck stop thinks it is a good thing. She doesn’t realize the rigs are too big to park in her truck stop. One sadly earnest fellow wrote to the Missoulian that the big rigs would bring “prosperity because of increased tourist activity to get a glimpse of these technically advanced machines.” (Daddy, I want to go to Montana this summer. Why son? To see the geysers, bears , catch fish, float rivers? No, I want to see the big rigs.) The motel owner should not expect business from mega-load truckers. These guys have their own sweet berths. (Here is a way to work sex into the story) 

You might ask why these huge pieces of equipment can’t be constructed closer to the Alberta tar sands project rather than in Korea. The equipment can, and has been until recently, built in Canada. But it is cheaper to have them built in Korea, shipped across the Pacific, barged up the Columbia and trucked through some of the west’s most productive landscapes. It is cheaper. Imperial Oil/ExxonMobil reported a 993 million dollar earning for the first half of 2010. 

How do you think the story is going to end?

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Author info

Lou Springer Lou Springer lives in Heron when not out on a river somewhere.

Tagged as:

transportation, big rigs, vehicles, highways, Clearwater River, Loscha River, Conoco/Phillips, Exxon Mobil, oil companies, corporatism, U.S. 12

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