The federal Surface Transportation Board has granted final approval for an 85-mile rail line that backers say is needed to connect the Uinta Basin’s oil production to markets outside of Utah.
For years, Utah’s oil-producing counties have sought a rail connection for the basin’s waxy crude, which is shipped entirely by truck, mainly to Salt Lake City refineries that enjoy a steep discount for the product. Past stabs at rail development got hung up on cost estimates, which exceeded $3 billion.
The rail idea’s latest iteration comes from the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, a consortium of eastern Utah counties formed in 2014 to promote projects that would bolster the region’s extractive industries.
Under its current configuration, the line is expected to cost only $1.4 billion and it will be financed and operated by private firms, while publicly owned. Rio Grande Pacific Corp. will operate the line and the Ute Indian Tribe is expected to become an equity partner, according to an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, released in November.