Recently at Aspen Journalism, we published long-time Roaring Fork Valley journalist Amy Hadden Marsh’s extensive exploration into the Uinta Basin Railway proposal.
The 88 miles of new track through a remote stretch of northeast Utah would unlock the potential to quadruple oil production in the Uinta Basin. And this is not just any oil — the resource found beneath the Uinta Basin is unique. Waxy crude, as it’s called, hardens once it cools below about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, so in order to get it to refineries, the oil must be heated in order to be transported.
This has bedeviled drillers for decades. Heated pipelines have proved problematic. Currently, the oil is loaded into heated tankers and trucked, mostly to Salt Lake City refineries. But those refineries are at capacity due to concerns about poor air quality around the populous urban center. So leaders of seven rural Utah counties in the vicinity of the basin hatched a plan to build the rail link, which would connect the basin’s oil fields to the national rail network near Price, Utah.
The project matters to residents of the three counties making up the Roaring Fork Valley because once those trains — between three and 10 per day, each carrying over 100 cars of heated crude — reach the national rail network, they would turn left and head through the heart of the Western Slope. They would pass through downtown Glenwood Springs and along the tracks hugging the walls of Glenwood Canyon, before crossing the Continental Divide on their way to the refineries of the Gulf Coast.
Eagle County is especially concerned that the increased demand on the high country tracks would lead to the oil trains using the rail line over Tennessee Pass and through the Arkansas Valley.
The Uinta Basin Railway proposal is facing challenges on all sides, and Marsh spent months reviewing documents and seeking out sources to understand the nature of the pushback. Her story does an especially thorough job unpacking the record relevant to the initial legal challenge, filed in August 2020 by environmental groups Living Rivers and the Center for Biological Diversity. The case, which is still pending in Utah state court, takes aim at the project proponents’ use of federal mineral lease royalties to fund planning work. According to the suit, the UBR planning work is ineligible for such public funding, which is intended to help communities on the front lines of oil and gas drilling and can only be used for the “planning, construction and maintenance of public facilities or the provision of public service,” according to the law. Project proponents argue that the railroad does qualify for federal mineral royalties. A judge’s ruling is expected later this summer.
A second legal challenge that came about in February seeks to block the Federal Surface Transportation Board’s December 2021 approval of the Uinta Basin Railway. That litigation is still in its early stages. Many jurisdictions along the Colorado route have also written to Colorado’s U.S. senators seeking action to stop the project. There are more chapters still to be written as the U.S. Forest Service evaluates whether or not the tracks should be allowed to cross an inventoried roadless area in the Ashley National Forest.
As Marsh points out in the story, the big picture is that the project would represent a significant increase in fossil fuel extraction at a time when scientists believe that global CO2 emissions must peak by 2025 and drop significantly through mid-century in order to avoid catastrophic climate change. That pressure will call into question any new oil investment.
We hope you’ll spend a little time with the story, as well as Water Desk Editor Heather Sackett’s report on an updated draft of the state water plan. With the markers of climate change and drought only getting bigger and brighter since the first version of the document in 2015, state authorities are hoping more Colorado citizens will get familiar with the plan, and submit comments to help shape the final version. And don’t forget to check Tracking the Curve on Tuesdays and Fridays for the most thorough and up to date local COVID-19 data.
Thank you for reading and supporting Aspen Journalism.
– Curtis Wackerle
Editor and executive director
Uinta Basin Railway faces obstacles
Litigation takes aim at public funding for project that would run heated oil trains through Colorado
By Amy Hadden Marsh | July 1, 2022
The UBR, approved by the Federal Surface Transportation Board in late 2021, would provide enough transportation capacity to quadruple oil production in the Uinta Basin at a time when scientists around the world are sounding an alarm over CO2 emissions.
State officials looking for engagement on updated water plan
$20 billion needed for projects to address shortfalls
By Heather Sackett | July 3, 2022
The plan says Colorado will continue the slow but steady transformation of moving water from agriculture — by far the largest water user — to cities, with nearly 14,000 acres of irrigated land expected to be urbanized, one-third of that in the Grand Valley.
Tracking the Curve
Documenting COVID-19 in Pitkin, Eagle and Garfield counties
By Laurine Lassalle | July 6, 2022
With 76 new cases since Thursday, Garfield County’s seven-day new COVID-19 case incidence rate is at 192. Eagle County, with 48 news cases, is at 120. Pitkin’s 28 new cases give is a rate of 247. Rates across all three counties are down from one week ago.
‘Grief is huge’
“Our middle schools ranked the highest with referred students needing the most mental health support,” Vaughn said. “Twenty of those referrals of that 148 were referrals that came to me from the Aspen Hope Center.”
Source: postindependent.com | Read more
Gunnison and Colorado River Basin look at supply shortages
“‘We have 20% less water than we did 20 years ago,’ said Gunnison County commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck of the latest estimates. County commissioner Liz Smith asked how much the compact was overstated. ‘The rule of thumb is that 15 million acre feet has not been available, so 11 million would be a more realistic yield as opposed to the 15 that the compact is based on,’ said Curry.”
Source: crestedbuttenews.com | Read more
Frisch to face Boebert in general election
“Yes, Adam Frisch admits he is a rich, white resident of a mountain ski town, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win over middle- to lower-income, working class voters in the mostly rural 3rd Congressional District. At least, that’s what the Aspen Democrat says.”
Source: gjsentinel.com | Read more
Is a 20% tax on STRs too much? Not for Crested Butte and Ouray
“’Our tax rate in the town of Crested Butte, with our local excise tax, is the highest in our community,’ said Dana MacDonald, town manager of Crested Butte, where the effective tax rate on short-term rentals is 20.9%. ‘But we still see ongoing increases in revenues, so it doesn’t seem to be dissuading folks from renting the units.'”
Source: steamboatpilot.com | Read more
The water wars come to the suburbs
“In 2018, Phoenix, concerned about its own supply, stopped selling water to haulers who serviced New River, an unincorporated community north of the city. Nabity grew worried that Scottsdale might make a similar decision and cut off supply to Rio Verde Foothills. If that happened, the water haulers could look for other sources, but trucking water in from farther away would cost significantly more. And what if other communities also stopped wanting to sell their scarce water to outsiders?”
Source: newyorker.com | Read more
Oil, gas industry said a Colorado law would destroy it. Here’s how it went.
“Oil and gas companies are taking into account the rules on the front end, Robbins said. ‘What we are seeing in terms of the applications of the operators is a significant change; they are starting out as being more protective.’”
Source: coloradosun.com | Read more
Dotsero Mobile Home Park will sell to an outside buyer
“In the first week of June, residents offered Condit the full asking price of $5.8 million, an offer that by necessity relied on loans and contingencies. It was the best that they could do, but it could not match the all-cash offer that the landowner had already received from an outside buyer. The 90-day clock ran out on June 23, and the owner informed the residents that he is accepting the other offer.”
Source: vaildaily.com | Read more
Biologists’ fears confirmed on the lower Colorado River
“…the park service confirmed their worst fear: smallmouth bass had in fact been found and were likely reproducing in the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam. They may be a beloved sport fish, but smallmouth bass feast on humpback chub, an ancient, threatened fish that’s native to the river, and that biologists like Arnold have been working hard to recover. The predators wreaked havoc in the upper river, but were held at bay in Lake Powell where Glen Canyon Dam has served as a barrier for years — until now.”
Source: apnews.com | Read more
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