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Schweitzer Calls for Mont. to Help Handle ’Megaload’

Thu June 30, 2011 - West Edition

HELENA, Mont. (AP) Gov. Brian Schweitzer told Exxon Mobil officials on June 24 that the company should manufacture some of its oversized oil refinery equipment in Montana in the future as a way of reducing criticism against “megaload” shipments.

More than 200 of the oversized rigs are slated to travel through Idaho and Montana over the next year to the Kearl Oil Fields in Alberta, Canada. But the shipments, being handled by a subsidiary called Imperial Oil, have been mired in legal and political disputes.

Critics argue the loads will tie up traffic and damage roads in pristine areas. The loads are also criticized by conservationists who oppose developing Canada’s oil sands.

Schweitzer had no such issues. But he advised the company in a June 24 meeting that a portion of future loads could be made in Montana to create jobs and make it easier to overcome objections.

Schweitzer, a Democrat, said he supports “conflict-free” oil from Canada as a better alternative to oil from the Middle East that he believes is at the heart of much of the U.S. military intervention in the region. He argued the total cost to the United States, and the environment, of oil from the Middle East is greater.

The governor said some of the resistance comes from people who wonder why Exxon Mobil Corp. is manufacturing the big industrial parts in Asia and shipping them through Montana to Canada.

“I would like you to look at Montana as a potential site for at least a portion of this manufacturing,” Schweitzer told Jeff Woodbury, an executive with the company. “Take this up the corporate ladder and say, ’You want to make them happy in Montana? Put them to work.”’

Woodbury said the company is supportive of the idea of using resources in the United States and would consider the idea.

Kyla Wiens of the Montana Environmental Information Center, which opposes the shipments, said the largest concern is building a corridor for huge shipments that could be used for decades to support the booming Canadian oil fields.

Wiens said the rigs will cause traffic safety issues, long delays, damage roads that taxpayers will have to pay for, and create recreation difficulties along the Blackfoot River corridor and the scenic rocky Mountain Front.

“The size of the loads are unprecedented,” she said.

Necessary highway upgrades for the transport of the oversized oil field equipment to Canada have been halted by a judge reviewing a complaint from conservation groups and Missoula County. That case is still unfolding.

Schweitzer told Exxon Mobil the state will adhere to the legal process and any permits it gets — or doesn’t get — will be as a result of the process and not because “we either love you or fear you.”

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