By Scott Miller
Eagle County officials are launching an effort to keep rail cars filled with crude oil off the rail line that runs along the Colorado River through much of western Colorado.
The U.S. Surface Transportation Board in December approved an application for a new rail line to run from oil fields in Utah to the national rail line that runs mostly parallel to Interstate 70 and the Colorado River.
If running at full capacity, the line could carry three to 10 trains per day, with a maximum daily haul of 350,000 barrels of oil.
The line was proposed by a group called the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, a group of county and tribal governments.
The idea is to ship what’s known as “waxy” crude oil to refineries in Texas.
The crude oil is too heavy to ship through pipelines. Trucking that much oil would be unwieldy. That makes rail the best way to haul the oil.
The proposal was supported by the local governments, which touted the economic development opportunities the $1 billion project could provide. It was also supported by both of Utah’s U.S. senators and others.
The board received, and rejected, petitions to reconsider the decision.
The Eagle County commissioners in late January approved going to U.S. District Court in Denver or Washington D.C. to request a reconsideration of the decision.
Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr said the county has a number of worries about the line.
Scherr said that although the Tennessee Pass line, unused since 1996, isn’t being considered for hauling oil, the county is concerned that the Surface Transportation Board could allow use without a broader review.
That seems to have been the case with the proposal to link to the line running along the Colorado to the Moffat Tunnel.
Eagle County Attorney Bryan Treu said the commissioners and his office believe the Surface Transportation Board made “procedural errors” in its decision.
That includes making the transportation decision before an Environmental Impact Statement was completed. The Dec. 15 decision noted that the board’s Office of Environmental Analysis completed a “thorough” review of the project.
But the applicants had asked the board to consider transportation aspects of the project before it considered environmental issues.
Those issues apparently were considered only along the proposed line, not the national line to which it connects.
Treu said the decision failed to look at any “indirect” environmental impacts.
The board voted to approve the line, but there was one dissent, from board member Martin Oberman, an appointee of President Joe Biden. Oberman is the current board chairman.
Oberman’s lengthy dissent is written in the Surface Transportation Board decision.
Oberman wrote that the project’s environmental impacts “outweigh its transportation merits.”
Oberman’s dissent also stated that the board’s decision shouldn’t have been made before the environmental review was finished.