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A proposed oil-hauling railroad would degrade up to 10,000 acres of wildlife habitat in northeastern Utah, potentially disrupting migration corridors and ruining wetlands, according to a new draft environmental review.
The federal Surface Transportation Board is reviewing the Uinta Basin Railway, proposed by a group of energy-producing Utah counties that hopes to connect the state’s oil patch to the national rail network. Such a transportation conduit would take hundreds of tanker trucks off Utah highways, but it would result in unavoidable, permanent and significant impacts, according the 580-page Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, released last week.
“This oil railway will inflict grave damage on rural communities, wildlife and water and it should never be built,” said Wendy Park, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Polluting oil companies want to ramp up fracking and poison Utah’s air and water, using millions of dollars in public money that’s supposed to fund hospitals, schools and other public services,” Park said. “The latest report shows that the Uinta Basin Railway isn’t just a cruel boondoggle, it would also be incredibly harmful to people and animals.”
The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is proposing the rail, expected to cost $1.4 billion, but it would be financed and operated by private firms as a “common carrier,” meaning it would be open to any freight haulers. Rio Grande Pacific Corp. would operate the line and the Ute Indian Tribe, which holds extensive oil and gas resources in the basin, is expected to become an equity partner, according to the EIS.
Funding the project’s planning are controversial grants totaling $28 million from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund, which distributes money derived from federal mineral royalties to local governments impacted by mining and drilling.
State leaders support the project because of its potential to create rural jobs in Utah and promote economic development.
In their “scoping” comments submitted as the EIS was getting started in June of last year, state officials said access to rail would greatly increase the amount of revenue generated from oil and gas resources managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA. Not only would a rail connection enable the basin to triple its production, but the basin’s waxy crude would be worth more because it would have access to new markets.
This article first appeared on www.sltrib.com
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