Bennet, Neguse urge EPA review of terminal expansions for Colorado-bound oil trains


Two Colorado Democrats on Tuesday called on the Environmental Protection Agency to “carefully examine” the proposed expansions of three rail terminals in eastern Utah that could dramatically increase hazardous oil-train traffic through the Colorado River Basin and the Denver metro area.

The three facilities located near Price, Utah — the Wildcat Loadout, the Price River Terminal and the Savage Energy Terminal — are used to export crude oil from the Uinta Basin, located roughly 50 miles to the northeast, to refineries along the Gulf Coast via the national rail network. Most of that oil-train traffic is routed through Colorado, and together the proposed expansions could increase the basin’s rail export capacity from 110,000 to 260,000 barrels per day.

“As oil transport by rail increases, the risk of spills and other incidents also increases,” U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse of Lafayette, both Democrats, wrote in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “A train derailment that spills oil in the Colorado River’s headwaters would be disastrous to our state’s water supplies, wildlife habitat, and outdoor recreation assets, and the broader Colorado River Basin.”

Production in the Uinta Basin has soared in recent years, but its “waxy” crude oil is solid at room temperature and can’t be transported through pipelines, and currently must be hauled to the rail terminals in tanker trucks. The terminals’ planned expansions are viewed as either a stepping stone or a backup plan to the proposed Uinta Basin Railway, an ambitious multibillion-dollar scheme to build a new 88-mile railroad spur into the heart of the oil-rich region.

The railway project is on hold after a court last year overturned its approval by federal regulators, ordering the Surface Transportation Board to conduct a more thorough review of its environmental risks, though its backers have appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Bennet and Neguse had previously urged the Bureau of Land Management to undertake a full environmental review of the Wildcat Loadout expansion, a process that is currently on hold. They noted in their letter Tuesday that the total export capacity that would result from the three proposed expansions would amount to nearly three-quarters of the 350,000-barrel-per-day capacity of the Uinta Basin Railway, which prompted alarm from dozens of local governments and environmental groups from across central Colorado.

At the state level, air quality regulators in Utah have issued a permit for the Wildcat Loadout expansion, while permits for the other two facilities are still pending. But Bennet and Neguse want federal regulators to step in and assess “whether these applications or permits are based on erroneous assumptions.”

“(The applications) include no requirements for monitoring, testing or operational and maintenance practices that would assure the assumed levels of emissions reductions actually occur,” wrote Bennet and Neguse. “We urge EPA to examine these proposed loadout expansions and ensure their permits are enforceable and will effectively limit harmful emissions.”

This story first appeared at Colorado Newsline. Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit news organization. Colorado Newsline is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, independent source of online news.

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