WIRT Newsletter: Retreating Highway 95 Megaloads, Montana Manufactur​ers, Idaho Resistance Prevails?

Dear fellow WIRT activists, friends, and supporters,

Please accept our apologies for the lateness of this Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) newsletter.  Expect an action alert soon, describing ways that you can affect the outcomes of the situations described here, through petitions, meetings, travels, and protests.


At the Idle No More World Day of Action Idaho Solidarity on Sunday, January 27, 2013, Wild Idaho Rising Tide and Moscow Volunteer Peace Band activists chanted “Shut Down Tar Sands!” and “[Port of] Wilma, Turn That Damn Thing Around!” [1]  Like on-the-ground, region-wide resistance to tar sands megaloads that WIRT has been working to instigate since January 2011, both vocalized WIRT goals are manifesting years later!  As reported by an online stock investors journal, narrowing profit margins could spell “game over” for more than two tar sands mining ventures, as the costs of exploiting tar sands deposits continue to inflate, while the price of oil and the net financial gains from tar sands extraction remain stable or worse [2].  French energy giant Total and lead tar sands producer Suncor recently abandoned a proposed tar sands project, Joslyn, symbolizing the world-wide challenges to industry and investors of the cost overruns of  tar sands operations, likely escalated by the resistance of indigenous and grassroots activists not mentioned in the article.

But, of course, the profiteers of slow, industrial genocide – powerful Big Oil companies, Canada’s economic elite, and their apologists – would never reveal such vulnerabilities of tar sands ventures, necessary pipeline easements, and extreme energy export, nor would they concede moral victory to First Nations’ legal agency, the target of extensive 2012 legislation that disenfranchised environmental and tribal protections and aggravated the rise of the Idle No More movement.  Such indigenous power makes tar sands development projects vulnerable to litigation and long-term liability.  Nor would Big Oil interests admit the poisoned forests, lands, and waters, deformed fish, and the higher rates of cancer and associated subsistence and social crises predominantly among First Nations and largely due to the atrocities attributable to tar sands exploitation.

One of the Total/Suncor project’s steam-injected wells initially exploded, and both companies quit upgrader construction in the same Fort Hills, Alberta, area.  But the most daunting logistics had not yet commenced.  Once underway at a tar sands mining site, oil corporations house, feed, and entertain workers in huge camps, and pay them two to three times regular wages and fringe benefits for similar jobs, more than $200,000 per year after taxes.  But time away from families, boredom, and drug and alcohol use (not to mention health risks) create turnover, and tar sands producers still encounter problems attracting employees to frigid northern Alberta.  With the cheaply and easily obtained tar sands gone, the higher expenses of new projects, and the almost prohibitive costs of labor, “any sustained drop in oil prices could majorly curtail oil sands production.  The days of oil sands operations being low-cost are largely over.  Look for more of these projects to be suspended in the future.” [2]


After obtaining game-changing, late-May 2014 news about megaload shipments proposed for transport through northern Idaho, Wild Idaho Rising Tide activists have scouted the Port of Wilma, across the Snake River from Clarkston, Washington, as well as adjacent river and rail transportation systems [3-6].  Since mid-December 2013, Mammoet USA South of Rosharon, Texas, has sought Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) permits to haul three hydrocracker sections stored at the port to Great Falls, Montana, where Calumet Specialty Products Partners would triple the tar sands production capacity of its Montana Refining Company.  After cancelling its permit requests on April 23, Mammoet and now Bigge Crane and Rigging of San Leandro, California, are vying to carry one of these megaloads, presumably the heaviest, 661,000-pound, 40-foot-long behemoth, up U.S. Highway 95 through Moscow and Sandpoint, Idaho, and over Idaho Highway 200 instead of Interstate 90 [7, 8].  The other two components, 504,000 pounds and 573,000 pounds respectively, could travel by rail to Montana, maybe back down the Snake River on barges to the Tri-Cities, Washington, or via Watco Companies Great Northwest Railroad west from Lewiston to eastern Washington [9, 10].  As oncoming rail traffic to all of the potentially explosive but fragile DOT-111 and DOT-111A tank cars of unit “bomb trains” headed from the fracked Bakken shale region to the West Coast, the megaloads could creep north on either the Union Pacific or Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail lines to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, then eastward on the BNSF railroad to a spur line heading south from Shelby to Great Falls, Montana [11]. Continue reading