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Richard Larsen: Common Sense Prevailing in Megaloads Issue

March 1st, 2011 by Halli

By Richard Larsen

So far, common sense, reason, and economic realities are prevailing over nonsensical, illusory, and ideological inanity in the “megaloads” issue in Idaho. In what should be a no-brainer issue, with crude oil prices once again approaching the $100 per barrel level, Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips are being allowed to ship their large pieces of equipment across northern Idaho into Montana.
ConocoPhillips is currently shipping the second of four massive coke drums, used in oil refining, to their refinery in Billings via the Port of Lewiston in Northern Idaho. Exxon Mobil has been jumping regulatory hurtles in their quest to transport 300 “megaloads” of massive mining equipment to their tar-sands project in Alberta, again via the Port of Lewiston.

Last week the House Transportation Committee in Boise defeated legislation that would require an extensive hearing process to be conducted before Exxon Mobil could begin their shipments from Lewiston to Sweetgrass, Montana where they will cross the border into Alberta.

Also last week, Idaho Transportation Director Brian Ness issued the first permit for “megaload” transportation of the mining equipment for the Alberta oil-sands project to begin leaving the Port of Lewiston. As Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry President, Alex LaBeau said, “Commonsense prevailed Monday…People understand this is a well-thought out proposal that will not only protect our highways, but also bring infrastructure improvements to Highway 12 at no cost to taxpayers. The decision is a victory for Idaho’s economy and the regional economy.” The Idaho Department of Commerce estimates the economic benefit of those shipments to be about $70 million to the state.

US Highway 12 has been a critical component to the East-West transportation corridor since 1926, stretching 2500 miles from the Pacific coast in Washington to downtown Detroit, Michigan. As has been the case with the extensive US highway system, Highway 12 was created for transportation purposes, in other words, the conveyance of people and goods over extensive distances. The fact that Idaho’s stretch of Highway 12 is a scenic byway is due to the topography of the region, not the reason for the highway itself.

The Alberta oil-sands project is important for North American oil production. The U.S. currently uses over 22 million barrels of oil per day, and 58% of that is imported to meet our demands from transportation to manufacturing. Over 22% of our oil comes from Canada and Mexico. The Alberta oil sands project is expected to produce up to three million barrels of oil per day within the next few years, which will lessen our dependence on oil from the Middle East and Venezuela, which is currently ruled by an anti-American dictator.

Still perplexing in this mix is how the Obama administration is able to defy court orders to lift the ban on U.S. offshore drilling. I fear this is another instance where radical ideology clashes with economic realities, and we pay the price for it.

According to the Department of the Interior, the U.S. continental shelf contains 115 billion barrels of oil and 633 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, which is enough to meet current U.S. demand for oil and natural gas for 15 years and 27 years, respectively. Environmental extremists have thus far been successful in crippling access to our own natural resources. Cuba, meanwhile, has been granting oil leases to China, Russia, and Venezuela to drill within 60 miles of the Florida coast, closer than any U.S. corporations now can because of Obama’s ban. One of the extremists’ arguments has been that it will take years to put such wells, as well as Anwar, the massive verified oil field in Alaska, into production. Well, it’s been years that they’ve been blocking our access, which means we could be reaping the benefits of less foreign oil dependence if they hadn’t been obstructionists to the process.

The volatility in oil and other commodities we’ve seen recently underscores the fact that scarcity of resources in the face of increasing demand creates price volatility, which price we, as end consumers, end up footing the bill for. And the fact remains, in spite of all the presidential grandiloquence and posturing on alternative energy sources, we are still a society heavily dependent on petroleum. And until Detroit can efficaciously install windmills and solar panels on our cars, we will remain so.

There’s a plethora of anti-oil-sands and anti-”megaload” material being produced by radical extremist groups available on the internet and in print form. Some of it is downright entertaining, as they seek to block the “megaload” shipments because of global warming, “contamination” of the scenic byways, adversely affecting fishing, and even George W. Bush. As is always the case with such extremists, facts and economic realities are at sharp odds with their myopic, idyllic, and narrow ideology.

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