Sometime soon after the Fourth of July, two enormous truckloads of equipment will leave Lewiston, Idaho, for a 700-mile trip to the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings.
They will be followed, probably in mid-September, by two identical loads. The cargo will be two cylindrical steel drums that will replace two aging drums inside the refinery’s coker unit, which was built in 1992 to process heavier crude oil into products like gasoline and diesel fuel.
The drums are in two pieces, which is why each trip will involve two trucks. Bill Stephens, a spokesman for ConocoPhillips in Houston, said each truckload will weigh 300 tons, spread over many axles, and each will be 225 feet long, 29 feet wide and 26 feet high.
The drums themselves, when assembled at the refinery, will weigh 350 tons each, will be 100 feet long and 24 feet in diameter. The drum-replacement project represents an investment of about $50 million.
“It’s a significant investment, which is good news for the Billings community,” Stephens said.
The drums were manufactured in Japan and shipped 5,200 miles over the ocean to Portland, Ore. From there they were taken by barge up the Columbia and Snake rivers and delivered in mid-May to the Port of Lewiston, a distance of 300 miles. They will travel 700 miles by truck to Billings.
Stephens said the components are made in only a handful of countries, and the United States is not one of them.
ConocoPhillips and Emmert International, the company in charge of trucking the components, “are close to buttoning up” a few remaining details with the departments of transportation in Montana and Idaho, Stephens said.
One delay has been waiting for completion of a bridge-resurfacing job in Idaho, but there have been numerous other details to attend to, including the temporary relocation of some 800 utility lines.
The trucks will travel at a top speed of 35 mph, and each load will be on the road about three weeks, according to Brady Hobza, who is the refinery’s project manager. The trucks will be accompanied by a Montana Highway Patrol escort, and they will be on the move only between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.
The trucks will be on secondary roads for the most part, because they are too big to clear overpasses on the interstate highways. Stephens said they are carefully mapping out every possible turnout so that traffic never backs up too far.
“It’s required a tremendous amount of planning,” he said.
From Lewiston, the trucks will enter Montana over Lolo Pass on U.S. Highway 12, follow I-90 and secondary roads to Garrison, then take U.S. 12 to Helena. They will follow U.S. 12 all the way to Harlowton, then head to Lewistown, north again on U.S. 191 and then south to Grass Range and Roundup on Highway 19 and U.S. 87.
From Roundup the trucks will go back west on U.S. 12 to Highway 3 and travel south into Billings, down Highway 3 to Main Street in the Heights, to Sixth Avenue North, south on North 15th Street to Montana Avenue, west to North 27th Street and then south to Minnesota Avenue and the refinery.
Hobza said the trucks would be parked just west of the airport for a couple of days while the drums are loaded onto different trailers for delivery inside the refinery.
As big a project as hauling the two drums has turned out to be, it is dwarfed by the magnitude of other deliveries being made from the Port of Lewiston to the oil-sands industry of Alberta, Canada.
Imperial Oil, whose parent company is ExxonMobil Canada, intends to truck 207 huge modules from Lewiston to an oil-sands project north of Fort McMurray, the hub of the Alberta oil industry. Those loads, which are expected to start moving through Montana in October, would weigh up to 150 tons each.