The first in a series of massive steel modules constructed by Bay Ltd. left Billings this week on large-haul trailers bound for the Canadian oil sands.
“We’re very excited about these. This is good for Montana. We’re a jobs creator,” said Bay spokesman James McCord on Tuesday.
Bay Ltd. received its first two transportation permits from the Montana Department of Transportation last Friday and hit the road at 2 a.m. Monday with the first of an expected 29 modules to be shipped to northern Alberta.
The two modules reached Denton, the planned stop, by Monday afternoon. The loads were back on the road again Tuesday morning, crossed the border at the Port of Sweet Grass and were in Canada on Wednesday.
A third module left Billings early Wednesday morning and a fourth is scheduled to leave on Friday, said Bill Parker, Bay Ltd.'s senior manager in Billings.
Bay Ltd., a Texas-based construction, fabrication and maintenance company that opened a Billings plant in 2008, built the huge structures for use in the oil sands industry.
The modules hold piping, electrical cable, valves and other equipment. They are described as “refineries on wheels” because hundreds of them are linked together in the development of giant plants that convert bitumen, the heavy crude from the oil sands, into petroleum products.
McCord compared the modules to big Lego toy pieces. The first nine modules to be shipped will form a sulfur recovery unit, he said.
The 29 modules will be transported in phases, with nine modules to be sent in the first phase. The remaining six modules in the first group will be shipped over the next week or two, depending on the weather, and the rest by the middle of October, McCord said.
Parker said the company is trying to ship the modules by similar sizes -- some are bigger than others -- to reduce the impact to communities and to coordinate with utilities along the route.
The route follows Montana’s back roads. From the Bay Ltd. site at 2450 S. 32nd St. W., the route goes to Acton, then east to Highway 87 and north through Roundup and Grass Range to the intersection of Highways 87 and 191.
The route then goes west through Denton to Fort Benton and continues northwesterly on Highway 223 to Chester and on back roads to the Port of Sweet Grass, north of Shelby.
The modules are being hauled by Mammoet, which has moved other large oil-related equipment through the state to Canada.
McCord said the first two loads left Billings at about 2 a.m. to avoid traffic, stopped for a few hours at 6 a.m. so school buses could make their rounds, and then resumed travel.
Travel will occur mainly during the daytime, except when leaving Billings, he said. Total travel time for the modules to reach their destination is about seven days at speeds of about 35 mph.
While the size of the modules varies, McCord said the maximum load allowed in Montana and Canada is 24 feet wide, 29 feet 6 inches tall when loaded on the trailer and 120 feet long. The maximum weight is 156 tons, he said.
Permitting the transportation of the modules was a long process but the company had “a great relationship” with MDT, McCord said. “We finally got all of their questions answered,” he said.
Duane Williams, MDT’s administrator for the Motor Carrier Division, said that once the department approves a transportation plan, which outlines the project, the permitting goes quickly. Each shipment has its own permit, he said.
A traffic control plan includes a requirement that traffic cannot be held up for more than 10 minutes.
The challenge in approving a project like Bay Ltd.’s is to make sure there is good coordination with all of the utilities, Williams said. He did not expect any problems with the 29 loads.
McCord said the company has worked closely with utility companies, including electric, television and fiber optic firms. Some companies are moving their lines permanently so they don’t have to move them every time a load comes through; others are raising their lines temporarily.
“It’s been a real good working relationship with all the utility companies,” McCord said.
Bay Ltd.’s work force for the modules reached 279 people, with the majority coming from Montana or nearby along with some specialty workers from outside the area, Parker said. The number of workers should remain at 279 for at least three weeks before scaling back.
Some of the workers are travelers who move on to other jobs when projects like the modules are completed, McCord said.
Bay Ltd. has landed some other jobs and will keep a core work force of about 85 people. While the initial module project may be done, Bay Ltd. expects to get similar work for the next 10 to 20 years and is pursuing jobs with the Bakken oil boom.
“We expect these projects to go long term,” McCord said.