William Heins built massive evaporators that clean water and reduce waste
The inventor of the giant water evaporators at the center of the most recent megaload battle said the equipment is unfairly associated with the harshest extraction methods being used at oil fields in the Canadian tar sands region.
William Heins, vice president and general manager of the Bellevue, Washington-based Resources Conservation Company International (RCCI), a subsidiary of General Electric Company, said the equipment is used in facilities that pump oil from beneath the Earth’s surface and not from open-pit mines.
“There are just some surface facilities with some water treatment processes and oil and water separation processes,” he said. “You don’t have any of the open-pit mining. You don’t have these big wastewater ponds associated with these plants.”
The equipment that Heins invented cleans water used in the oil extraction process, known as steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD), so waste is reduced or eliminated and the water can be reused. But the equipment is massive, and getting it to the oil fields is proving to be problematic.
Like other companies seeking to get oversized equipment to the Canadian oil fields, RCCI found shipping the loads to the Lewiston-Clarkston Valley via the Snake and Columbia rivers and then hauling them over U.S. Highway 12 on their way to Canada to be an attractive route. Last October, the company used the route to ship a 20-foot-wide evaporator weighing more than 500,000 pounds from the Port of Wilma to Canada. Aside from a slight weather delay, there were no problems [except a few WIRT protesters and monitors]. Heins thought the success of the 2012 shipment boded well for future loads.
“Since we were able to do that safely and efficiently last year, that gave us all the more reason to believe we would get through without a hitch,” he said.
But in February, U.S. Federal Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled that the U.S. Forest Service has authority to regulate megaload shipments through the national forest and the Lochsa/Middle Fork of the Clearwater Wild and Scenic River corridor. The agency implemented interim criteria that seemed to stop the loads pending the completion of a study on their effects and consultation with the Nez Perce Tribe.
But the 21-foot-wide, 255-foot-long evaporator that weighed more than 640,000 pounds rolled anyway last month. Its transport prompted four nights of protests, temporary blockades of the highway, and numerous arrests.
The tribe and Idaho Rivers United filed a lawsuit seeking to compel the U.S. Forest Service to protect the Wild and Scenic River corridor by stopping future shipments. A hearing was held in the case on Monday, and another evaporator awaits shipment from the Port of Wilma. Six or more loads that have yet to be shipped upriver are scheduled to follow.
Heins said his company faces $3.6 million in damages if it doesn’t deliver the evaporators on time. He said the U.S. Highway 12 route is safe, disrupts the public less than other potential routes, and believes his company has taken steps to reduce effects of the loads. For example, the company modified its transportation plan so the loads would not be parked in the protected river corridor during daylight hours.
However, the load ended up parking at Syringa and taking well more than 12 hours to pass through the corridor. Heins said that happened because protesters put the load behind schedule.
“Unimpeded without any activity like that, those loads can get through in a 12-hour period,” he said.
Heins also wants people to know the equipment has an environmental benefit.
“It’s a little bit ironic that this particular piece or type of equipment is the one being challenged because it’s really the one that actually provides that environmental benefit everyone is looking to gain,” he said.
Depending on the outcome of Judge Winmill’s ruling, which is expected later this week, the next evaporator could start its journey a week from today.
“If the loads are able go through, we want to develop a relationship with the community,” he said.
(By Eric Barker, The Lewiston Tribune)