PI Editorial: Proposed hot crude rail project too risky for our communities, environment | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: Proposed hot crude rail project too risky for our communities, environment

Post Independent Editorial Board

The challenge of commerce is often simply getting something from point A to point B. It’s often a simple enough thing that we don’t even think about it with depth. We ship packages, we buy groceries and goods driven hundreds — sometimes thousands of miles — before reaching our city, and we don’t bat an eye.

But what if that something to be delivered is a substance with the potential to devastate not just the environment, but the major water source for much of the American Southwest?

Something like that deserves a lot of scrutiny — and that is what’s happening with a rail proposal that would see thousands of barrels of hot crude oil shipped daily through Garfield County along the Colorado River and up over the mountains before it could reach refineries along the Gulf Coast.

The nonprofit news outfit Aspen Journalism recently highlighted the project in a story, describing the challenge as this: The Uinta Basin could produce up to 350,000 barrels a day, but is bottlenecked by a lack of refining capability in the Salt Lake City area. That’s because the Salt Lake City area has twice been declared a nonattainment area by the Environmental Protection Agency in a decade, once for particulate matter and another for ozone. Increasing production of the “waxy crude” from the Uinta Basin would likely exacerbate pollution challenges the area already faces. 

So the solution, as some energy producers see it, is to ship it to refineries along the Gulf Coast. The proposed route, however, goes right through Garfield County and along the Colorado River. And while hazardous freight is shipped by train and truck along a similar route already, the UBR proposal could see as many as three to 10 oil trains, up to 110 cars long each, with the capacity to carry about 642 barrels of oil, sharing tracks with other freight trains, Amtrak service and the new Rocky Mountaineer tourist train.

The proposed scale inherently brings considerable risk, which is why the city of Glenwood Springs wrote to Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper opposing the project. As Mayor Jonathan Godes told Aspen Journalism, “It would be a massive cleanup” if one car, let alone a whole train, were to leak into the Colorado River.

It’s worth highlighting further that this proposal comes at a time when it’s becoming more clear by the day that the Colorado River is taxed beyond sustainable levels. States are scrambling to work out details of new agreements to avoid the federal government stepping in and mandating solutions. To put such a strained resource under even further unnecessary risk frankly feels unacceptable.

That’s not to say it’s a done deal — the proposal is already facing one lawsuit in Utah, one in federal district court and another filed by Eagle County with the Federal Surface Transportation Board.

But the proposal has a lot of backing in Utah politics, and thinking it will go away on its own would be naive. One group that hasn’t weighed in on it yet is the Garfield County Board of Commissioners, and hearing their voice on the issue could be helpful. Some might think our conservative commissioners would immediately back energy, but they’ve taken thoughtful positions on what we view as similarly unpalatable projects, such as the proposal to expand the RMI strip mine near Glenwood Springs.

For us at least, it seems common sense to see the UBR project as too risky for our communities and our region.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud, and community representatives Mark Fishbein and Danielle Becker.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around Glenwood Springs and Garfield County make the Post Independent’s work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.