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Opinion | From Utah with love: a warning about oil trains that could be rolling through Colorado

Unless federal regulators say no. This is where you come in

Greetings from Utah. I write to warn Coloradans of the looming threat to your beautiful state — a threat devised by Utah politicians. 

Deeda Seed

It comes in the form of a proposed 88-mile-long oil railway that would quadruple oil extraction in northeast Utah’s Uinta Basin. If the Uinta Basin Railway is built it will need to be connected to the national rail network, and all routes lead through Colorado.

Every day the railway would send up to ten 2-mile-long trains hauling crude oil through the Western Slope and the Front Range — through Colorado mountains, towns and valleys on the way to Gulf Coast oil refineries.

This railway will cause irreparable damage to Utah, Colorado and our nation.

It’s not too late to stop it.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

There is no such thing as a safe oil train. Uinta Basin Railway cars would carry waxy crude, which is less volatile than other forms of oil, but there are significant risks of accidents, spills and fires. This could wreak havoc on some of the most spectacular places in Colorado, harming wildlife, water and wildlands.

The oil trains would barrel through Colorado, traveling west along the Union Pacific mainline, paralleling the Colorado River almost to its headwaters. The trains will follow the Fraser River to Denver, where they’ll head south through Colorado Springs and Pueblo toward refineries along the Gulf of Mexico. This will pose a tremendous health and safety threat to Coloradans and the state’s remarkable wildlife and wild places.

All of us will be harmed by the enormous greenhouse gas emissions and pollution from ramped up oil extraction in the Uinta Basin, which, separated by the Green River, borders Colorado’s Western Slope. The railway is expected to increase oil production in the Uinta Basin by up to 350,000 barrels a day. That’s conservatively estimated at 53 million tons of carbon dioxide per year — equivalent to emissions from six of Utah’s dirtiest coal plants.

If you’ve visited Utah, you know it’s a special place. According to a federal environmental analysis, the Uinta Basin Railway would dig up more than 400 Utah streams and strip bare or pave over 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat, including crucial areas that pronghorn and mule deer need to survive.

In Emma Park, a remote sagebrush valley known to birdwatchers, bulldozers and train traffic would drive imperiled greater sage grouse out of their mating and nesting grounds and, it’s feared, wipe them out from the region.

Utah officials have already spent $28 million in public funds to plot and plan the Uinta Basin Railway. But this is far from a done deal.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

So here’s the good news: There’s something you can do now to stop this destructive boondoggle in its tracks.

To construct the railway, proponents need approval from the U.S. Surface Transportation Board, which is considering the project’s environmental impacts. The railway can’t be built without the board’s approval.

Please contact Colorado Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet and ask them to tell the Surface Transportation Board to reject the Uinta Basin Railway. The board’s decision could come any day, so there’s no time to waste.


Deeda Seed, of Salt Lake City, is a former SLC Council member, and is Utah campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity.


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