The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a bold statement this week accusing ExxonMobil of attempting to establish a permanent high-and-wide corridor through Idaho and Montana to service its tar sands mining operation in Alberta, Canada. According to its release, the NRDC has translated press reports and documents from Sung Jin Geotech—the South Korean manufacturer contracted to build ExxonMobil's mining equipment—indicating the much-protested Kearl Module Transportation Project (KMTP) is merely the beginning of a much larger exploitation of western highways.
The NRDC references a number of releases from Sung Jin Geotech dating back to Oct. 3, 2009. The most damning of these translations, which U.S. media have yet to independently verify, is a press statement from March 3, 2010. The NRDC translation states that the proposed KMTP, worth an estimated $250 million, is only the first phase in a long-term project worth close to $1.5 billion. Below the fold is the NRDC's only complete quotation for its translated Sung Jin Geotech material:
This initial production, which will eventually amount to a total of 1.5 billion [US] dollars, this being just the first production guarantee for 20,000 tons of modules—resulting in 200 individual modules—is on track to be completed by July 2011. After the first production round is successful...a guarantee to commence a second round of production in 2012 will start automatically.
ExxonMobil quickly rallied, offering the Associated Press a full denial of the NRDC's accusations yesterday. According to the AP, Pius Rolheiser, a spokesman with ExxonMobil's Canadian subsidiary Imperial Oil, says "we have no commitments to Sung Jin beyond the current contract." Sound familiar? It's the same line opponents to the KMTP have heard from numerous talking heads this year, including Gov. Brian Schweitzer. Back in mid-June of this year—several months after the NRDC alleges the permanence of this corridor was discussed—Great Falls Tribune reporter John Adams got this comment from Schweitzer: "There hasn't been a proposal for a permanent transportation corridor and there haven't been any discussions formally or informally about that." Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch has given the Indy the same sound-bite every time we've asked him about any precedence-setting with the KMTP, even after ConocoPhillips issued a similar big-rig transportation proposal this summer.
Who's drinking the punch on this "one-time-only" promise? Not many. Certainly not the dozens of regional writers, journalists, politicians and activists—including Bill Kittredge, Rick Bass and David James Duncan—who gathered at Missoulian Suzie Estep's house last night for a casual anti big-rig event hosted by Save Our Wild Salmon and the newly formed group All Against The Haul. Certainly not local filmmakers Holly Schroeder and Jane Growchoski, who released an eight-minute documentary on the KMTP this summer. Schroeder told the Indy, "If this route is approved by the state, it will be used by every oil company. It sets a dangerous precedent." And certainly not Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio, whose letter to U.S. Transportation Director Ray LaHood requesting a federal investigation of ExxonMobil's proposal brought the KMTP issue back into front page headlines in September.
Stay tuned to next week's print edition for more on the latest surrounding big oil's attempt to court western Montana. And if any Missoulians out there speak Korean and would be willing to independently translate some documents for us, give us a jingle.