Leaders drop wells-to-rails plan for Uinta Basin oil

Lee Davidson – The Salt Lake Tribune

Eastern Utah officials have decided to sidetrack plans for a multibillion-dollar railroad to transport crude oil from the Uinta Basin.

“The economics are just not there,” especially because officials figure now that the cost would be closer to $5 billion than to the initial $2 billion estimate, said state Sen. Kevin Van Tassell, R-Vernal, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Transportation Interim Committee.

He said officials from six eastern Utah counties — Uintah, Duchesne, Daggett, Carbon, Emery and San Juan — who met last week agreed it would be wiser to pursue other options for now, such as building pipelines or improving highways for continued or expanded trucking of oil.

Earlier this year, the Utah Department of Transportation completed a study of 26 possible routes for a rail line from the Uinta Basin and concluded only one was feasible: a 100-mile route southwest to Price, roughly along U.S. 191, which would require a 10-mile tunnel. It would connect to existing rail lines near Price.

UDOT estimated it would cost about $2 billion, using rough cost-per-mile standards of railroads nationally.

But Van Tassell said eastern Utah officials did more study and figured the cost would be around $5 billion, including interest to pay for it.

“As we’ve done the economic study and done a more complete analysis of the cost of the railroad, at this time the economic drivers to make it successful are just too risky,” said Van Tassell, a banker. (…)

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