Could safety concerns derail Utah oil train?

May 16, 2023

Until recently, the prospect of large shipments of waxy crude oil traveling from northeastern Utah may not have been top of mind for residents of Mesa County in western Colorado, but that was before a rail car caught fire earlier this month. Jessica Washkowiak and her family had to briefly evacuate their home near Palisade on May 2 because of a fire involving a train car full of railroad ties. “It’s definitely on my radar now,” said Washkowiak, adding, “If there’s more trains, there’s more incidents, more accidents. It’s just what comes along with it.” 

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., heard arguments challenging the federal Surface Transportation Board’s approval of the 88-mile Uinta Basin Railway. Opponents of the railway say the board violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the estimated additional 14.7 million gallons a day of new oil production that the proposed railway will facilitate, the 53 million tons per year of carbon dioxide that would be added to the atmosphere from burning the oil, and the increased risk of fires and oil spills along the rail route through Colorado, particularly along the Colorado River.

Similarly, federal and state elected officials have been urging Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to delay the U.S. Forest Service’s authorization of the permit that would allow dozens of two-mile-long trains loaded with crude oil to travel each week through Forest Service-managed land until a supplemental review is conducted to better evaluate the project’s potential impacts on Colorado’s communities and environment. “This review is especially critical in light of the recent train derailment and environmental disaster in East Palestine, Ohio, which has laid bare the threat of moving hazardous materials by rail,” wrote Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and Representative Joe Neguse to Secretary Vilsack in March.

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Quote of the day

”We can achieve conservation and our climate goals, and employ a very large amount of renewable energy.”

—Grace Wu, environmental studies professor at U.C. Santa Barbara, Los Angeles Times

Picture this

Blackfooted ferrets

The innovative and determined actions taken by @usfws team members, along with state, local and Tribal governments, private landowners and conservation organizations, stand as a testament to the power of partnerships and conservation successes.

(A train exits Glenwood Canyon next to the Colorado River. Photo by Carol M Highsmith)