Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 13, 2019


Ryan Beam, Center for Biological Diversity, (928) 853-9929,
Sarah Stock, Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper, (435) 260-8557,
Darrell Fordham, Argyle Wilderness Preservation Alliance, (801) 301-4190,
Katie Matheson, Alliance for a Better Utah, (845) 775-7901,
Jonny Vasic, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (385) 707-3677,

Utah Board OKs $21.4 Million in Public Money for Oil-train Railway

Project Will Trigger Massive Pollution Increase From Uinta Basin Oil Extraction

VERNAL, Utah— A Utah board today approved spending $21.4 million in public money for a railway to move oil from the Uinta Basin to refineries in other states, despite concerns that the funding is illegal.

The railway would lead to a quadrupling of oil production in the basin, worsening smog in an area that already violates federal pollution standards because of oil and gas extraction.

Today’s vote by the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board will allow the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition to continue preliminary work on the oil-train railway. The board granted the coalition $6.5 million for work on the railway in November 2018.

“This money should be helping local communities instead of propping up fossil fuel corporations,” said Ryan Beam, a public lands campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Uinta Basin Railway will worsen already deadly air pollution and destroy public lands with more oil wells. The board’s illegal spending will unleash enormous amounts of greenhouse gas pollution that our climate absolutely can’t afford.”

In a letter sent this week to CIB board members, the new Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition said using the funds for fossil fuel infrastructure projects is illegal under federal and state law. The public money must go toward public projects that help communities deal with the impacts of mineral development on federal public lands.

“These grants provide essential funding in rural communities for medical centers, fire stations, water projects and more. If the CIB is granting this money in huge lump sums to directly support the fossil fuel corporations, that same money is no longer available for these other necessary projects,” said Sarah Stock with Living Rivers. “The fossil fuel companies are some of the richest in the world. We don’t need to be paying for their infrastructure with public funds.”

The oil-train railway likely would be built through a community in Argyle Canyon. While project proponents maintain that three alternative routes are being studied, the route through Argyle Canyon is considered the preferred route.

“The Seven County Infrastructure Coalition continues to ignore repeated requests for documentation and information regarding the route selection process, cost estimates, financial viability and other information that should be public as part of the railway project,” said Darrell Fordham with Argyle Wilderness Preservation Alliance. “They have shown a clear disregard for the rights of private property owners and continue to violate the Utah Public Meetings Act by deliberately withholding key project information. This railway will destroy the Argyle Canyon, Avintaquin Canyon and Emma Park areas and will affect the lives of thousands who own properties and enjoy outdoor recreation in the area.”

Assistant Utah Attorney General Alison Garner told board members at their November meeting that the funding could conflict with federal law.

“The CIB is railroading entire communities with this project,” said Chase Thomas, executive director of Alliance for a Better Utah. “By taking minimal public comment and being less than forthcoming with important information, the community is left with a project run by a board that seems to think it acts with impunity. A huge project like this which is being run by a government agency and funded with public money should have high expectations for public involvement. The most basic tenets of good governance — transparency and accountability — are being violated by the CIB with this project.”

Air pollution in the Uinta Basin exceeds federal standards because of oil and gas development in the region. Ozone causes asthma attacks and other harmful conditions that can lead to premature death.

“The oil and gas industry has already drilled over 11,000 wells in the Uinta Basin. A study back in 2013 showed all that activity had created a pollution nightmare, more toxic VOCs than would be emitted from 100 million cars,” said Dr. Brian Moench, president and founder of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “This proposed railway would open the door to quadruple the amount of dirty energy production from the basin, which would create levels of pollution high enough to endanger everyone who lives there.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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