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Crude Oil Trains Threaten Colorado River (CO)

Posted: 01/12/2022
By: Kestrel Kunz

Late last month, the federal Surface Transportation Board approved construction and operation of the Uinta Basin Railway, a project that has the sole purpose of increasing crude oil extraction and transporting it through Colorado to Gulf Coast Refineries. The fossil fuel extraction in the Uinta Basin would lead to 53 million tons of carbon emissions per year and would send up to ten 2-mile long oil trains per day alongside some of Colorado’s most prized rivers, including the length of the Colorado River itself. 


The proposal would result in up to 350,000 barrels of waxy crude oil moving along the Upper Colorado River, through Ruby-Horsethief Canyon, Shoshone, the Upper C, and Gore Canyon by rail.. The significant increase in traffic is predicted to degrade the scenery and noise levels and interfere with wildlife. An even greater concern is the risk of crude oil spill into the river, which would be detrimental to human safety, water quality, and fish and wildlife. Despite evidence of these risks and significant opposition, the Surface Transportation Board has given the project full approval. 


Last year, American Whitewater worked with a number of organizations in an effort to stop the expedited approval of the re-operation of the Tennessee Pass Rail Line that runs along the Eagle and Arkansas Rivers. The proposed operator is a subsidiary of the rail line poised to run the Uinta Basin Railway, raising concerns that the Tennessee Pass Line could be used to transport the Uinta Basin’s crude oil or at the very least, divert other traffic over Tennessee Pass to free up space for oil trains to move through the near-capacity Moffat Tunnel. In response to our efforts, the Surface Transportation Board denied the company’s request for exemption from full environmental review and Senator Bennet has spoken out opposing the risky transport of oil over the Tennessee Pass Line. At this time, it is yet to be determined where the crude oil will go if Moffat Tunnel exceeds its capacity. 


The bottom line is that all scenarios are dangerous for Colorado’s rivers and would contribute to climate change. American Whitewater is working closely with our partners to determine the most effective next steps in response to this proposed project.

Kestrel Kunz

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