ConocoPhillips is poised to begin moving their mega loads of equipment from Idaho to Montana on February 1. Last week, they received the full fledged endorsement of the Yellowstone County Commissioners in that effort. Commissioners underscored, in a resolution, the importance of the refinery’s continued operation to the local economy, as a supplier of jobs and fuel.
The oil company has been stymied in efforts to move equipment through Idaho and Montana by legal and permitting challenges.
Being able to transport the four giant loads of equipment that will be assembled into two cocker units is very important to the refinery’s continued operation, and to do so at even higher levels of efficiency, said Bill Stephens, Houston, Media Director for Conoco Phillips. The drums were manufactured in Japan and have been shipped up the Columbia River to Lewiston, Idaho, where they await their cross-country haul to Billings.
Stephens said that they plan to move the four loads, two at a time to the Montana –Idaho boarder near Lolo, and should have them in Billings within a few weeks. As part of a $50 million upgrade, the company hopes to be able to assemble the cocker units this summer.
Success in transporting their equipment comes a year later than originally planned, because of legal challenges and permitting delays in Idaho, lodged by environmental groups, and by local citizens concerned that the loads pose an inconvenience to local traffic. Conoco expected to transport the loads last June.
The Idaho Department of Transportation, only last week, granted the final approval for Conoco Phillips to begin moving their equipment, saying they were convinced the loads could be transported “without damage to the roads and bridges and with minimal disruption to traffic and emergency services.”
Montana’s Department of Transportation has approved permits for Conoco.
Opponents of the mega loads, also announced that they are going to drop their opposition to Conoco’s four loads, and focus all their efforts upon stopping ExxonMobil’s plan to move 200 mega loads to the Canadian oil sands. The opposition poses a threat to oil development in the far reaches of Canada, crude from which is refined in Billings, as well as US refineries further south.
The fact that some 400 people report for work every day at ConocoPhillips, performing jobs that usually pay well above average salaries, has much to do with the county commissioners’ support of permitting Conoco’s use of state raod ways. The three refineries in Yellowstone County pay a total of $18 million annually in property taxes. The company also provides about 25 percent of the fuel used by Montana customers, said Stephens.
Stephens said that ConocoPhillips shopped the world to find the best manufacturer possible for the coke drums, which they hope will last longer than those currently in operation. The current drums, which were built on site in 1991, did not last as long as the company hoped, he said, “We decided that for quality control the best way is to have them fabricated in a shop. The drums get “heated up every day to a thousand degrees,” and applies pressure in processing, “heavier less valuable residual oil into more valuable products like gasoline or diesel fuel.” “It really helps with the efficient use of the product stream,” explained Stephens.
Each drum weighs 300 tones, and is 100 feet long, 24 feet in diameter.