Judge Stops Transport of Giant Oilfield Equipment Through Western Montana

07-20-2011 // Kim Briggeman

The following is an excerpt from the Missoulian.

After Kensington

A District Court judge has upheld a request by Missoula County and three conservation groups to stop the Kearl Module Transportation Project - and its trucking of giant oilfield equipment modules through western Montana.

Judge Ray Dayton of Anaconda issued his decision to partially grant a preliminary injunction against the Montana Department of Transportation and Imperial Oil/Exxon Mobil shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Dayton ruled that the Transportation Department was out of line in approving Imperial's proposal to transport an unprecedented 200 Korean-made megaloads of processing equipment to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, via U.S. Highway 12, Highway 200 and other two-lane roads in Montana.

He agreed with the county and its co-plaintiffs - the National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club - that MDT violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act because it approved an insufficient environmental assessment.

The plaintiffs maintained that the Transportation Department "failed to adequately consider impacts of the project and failed to adequately consider reasonable alternatives." 

He ruled that the environmental assessment didn't analyze whether construction at a similar cost along an interstate route was a feasible alternative. And he said MDT didn't take a "hard look" at the environmental impacts of the Kearl project because it relied on the work of a private consulting firm, Tetra Tech, which was hired by Imperial Oil.

"I think Judge Dayton hit the mark in terms of his reading of the law," said Tom France, a Missoula-based attorney for the National Wildlife Federation. "While we thought we had a strong case all along, the decision certainly affirms our analysis of why the Montana Department of Transportation violated the law and it says Montana isn't open for business unless companies are willing to comply with our laws."

The decision came two months after a three-day hearing in Missoula District Court in which Imperial Oil project manager Ken Johnson and officials from the Montana Department of Transportation and Tetra Tech argued that the environmental review was thorough and proper.

France said the case was complicated and Dayton had to sort through a lot of evidentiary and procedural issues.

"In the end he found that MDT ... failed to really examine the potential for future use of the corridor by examining the turnouts and other infrastructure," he said. "To me that's a very important part of the ruling. Certainly one of our major concerns at the National Wildlife Federation and the other conservation plaintiffs was seeing an industrial corridor developed across Highway 200 and Highway 12."

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