Eagle County carries the torch for Colorado in last-ditch attempt to block Utah waxy-crude rail cars traversing Colorado River

Eagle County is the only Colorado group appealing the Surface Transportation Board’s approval of a new Utah railroad that will direct 350,000 barrels of Uinta Basin crude through Colorado.

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
Rafters float the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon National Monument, where a train operator is hoping to revive the Tennessee Pass Line railroad that has been dormant since 1997.
Jason Blevins/The Colorado Sun

Eagle County has fired its first volley in a last-ditch battle to block plans for millions of gallons of crude oil a week rolling along rails next to the Colorado River.

The county joins several environmental groups appealing the Surface Transportation Board’s 2020 approval of an 88-mile stretch of new railroad in Utah connecting the state’s oil fields in Uinta Basin with the national rail network. The decision set the stage for 65,000 to 350,000 barrels of Uinta Basin waxy crude to roll through Colorado every day in 100-tanker-long trains, stretching 10,000 feet, as they cover a route running mostly along the Colorado River. 

Eagle County and several environmental groups are asking the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., to overturn the transportation’s board approval, noting the board’s “uninformed decision-making” in its environmental review of the project and “increased risk of environmental harm” from increased oil production and processing. 

“The railway not only increases ignition risks for dangerous disasters such as wildfires, it also will lead to the exploitation and burning of fossil fuels contributing to climate change, which will expose Eagle County and its residents to increased threats from extreme heat, extreme drought, and extreme weather, including fire- and flash flood-triggering thunderstorms,” reads a declaration by Eagle County Manager Jeff Shroll in the county’s opening brief filed this month. “In other words, the railway could both be lighting the match and fanning the flames for future impacts on Eagle County.” 

The groups and Eagle County point to how the quintupling of oil production in the Uinta Basin — producing up to 430,000 barrels of oil a day and requiring 3,330 new oil wells — would have “indirect effects” that include risks to the environment on the train route between Utah and Gulf Coast refineries and the climate impacts from processing and burning that oil. 


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