An oil company is denying an environmental group's report that says huge loads of refinery equipment will be shipped over scenic U.S. 12 in the Rocky Mountains for the next decade.
The Natural Resources Defense Council issued a report Thursday contending that documents it translated from South Korea show that Imperial Oil, a unit of Exxon Mobil Corp., and its Korean equipment supplier, Sung Jin Geotec Co., plan to use the remote two-lane highway to move equipment until 2020.
Imperial Oil spokesman Pius Rolheiser said the company has no plans to use the road beyond the 207 shipments it is seeking permission for in the next year.
"I know that Sung Jin Geotec has made statements in news releases and other investor communications that may allude to potential future work with Imperial," Rolheiser said Thursday. "I can state on Imperial's behalf that we have no commitments to Sung Jin beyond the current contract."
Asked if Imperial Oil might make future agreements with Sung Jin, Rolheiser said the question was speculative and he declined to speculate.
Environmental groups have been trying to prevent the shipments for months, contending they will turn the spectacular mountain highway into a permanent industrial route.
"We believe the evidence is clear Exxon plans to be shipping oversized modules through the Pacific Northwest for quite some time," said Bobby McEnaney, of the NRDC in Washington, D.C.
The NRDC said it gathered and translated Korean business documents, Korean press reports and SJG press releases in order to produce its conclusion that the shipments could be far more numerous and last until 2020. The group shared the documents with The Associated Press, although their contents could not immediately be independently verified.
U.S. 12 in Idaho is variously designated as the Northwest Passage Scenic Byway, the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail or the Nez Perce National Historic Trail. For 100 miles it tightly borders the Lochsa and Clearwater, both designated Wild and Scenic rivers.
The Imperial Oil equipment is destined to pass through Idaho and Montana to reach the controversial Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada. The 207 modules will be assembled into equipment to convert the oil sands into oil, a process denounced by opponents as environmentally destructive.
The first load of modules has been shipped from South Korea, up the Columbia and Snake rivers, and arrived at the Port of Lewiston in Idaho. The modules, nearly 200 feet long and 30 feet tall, are so huge they must be loaded onto trailers that take up both lanes of U.S. 12, resulting in a rolling roadblock as they move.
But the equipment can go no further. In a lawsuit involving four pieces of similarly sized equipment destined for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Mont., the Idaho Supreme Court is deciding if the issuance of a state permit will imperil the safety of residents along the highway and also the economy of the region. Officials in Montana have also not issued permits.