Utah crude trains could be rolling through Colorado after Forest Service denies objections to new rail line

The Uinta Basin Railroad would connect northeast Utah oil fields with the national rail network to transport 5 billion gallons of crude a year to Gulf Coast refineries

Jason Blevins
The Colorado Sun
A Texas railroad company plans to route crude oil trains from Utah's Uinta Basin through Gore Canyon along the Colorado River near Kremmling.
Jason Blevins/The Colorado Sun

UTAH — It’s looking likely that heated train cars loaded with a waxy crude oil will be rolling through Colorado after the Forest Service last week rejected objections to the proposed new rail line in a section of roadless forest in Utah.  

“We are going to continue to fight this terrible project with every tool available to us,” said Deeda Seed with the Center for Biological Diversity, which has spent years battling to stop the proposed Uinta Basin Railway, an 85-mile stretch of new railroad that would connect the oil fields of northeast Utah with the national rail network. 

A consortium of environmental groups earlier this year filed objections to the Forest Service’s draft plan to allow the new railroad to traverse about 12 miles of roadless area, with new bridges and tunnels in the Ashley National Forest. Last week, the agency dismissed those objections, ruling that the yearslong Environmental Impact Statement conducted by the federal Surface Transportation Board, which approved the new railroad in December 2020, adequately addressed environmental concerns. 

“In our view, the totality and essence of the reasonably foreseeable environmental effects were fully and clearly disclosed” in the environmental review, Deborah Oakeson, the Forest Service’s deputy regional forester, wrote on July 5 to attorneys representing the environmental groups. 

That was a final regulatory hurdle for the railroad’s backers. Houston-based Drexel Hamilton Infrastructure Partners and railroad operator Rio Grande Pacific Corp. plan to build the $1.5 billion railroad for Utah’s Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, which has spent years studying how to move the viscous, waxy crude oil from Uinta Basin to refineries on the Gulf Coast. The plan could move as much as 350,000 barrels a day — up to 5 billion gallons a year — in train cars that need to be heated to keep the crude from solidifying. The crude is too thick to push through a pipeline and production has been limited by rules limiting numbers of oil trucks. 


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