Forest Service withdraws permit for Uinta rail project that would send crude oil through Colorado

BNSF oil train
Matthew Brown/AP Photo
A BNSF Railway train hauls crude oil near Wolf Point, Mont. on Nov. 6, 2013

The U.S. Forest Service on Wednesday, Jan. 17, withdrew a federal permit for a section of the Uinta Basin Railway Project, a key part of a proposed rail network that would pass through western Colorado to connect Utah oil fields with refineries along the Gulf Coast.

If completed, the 88-mile rail route would link with freight lines that run alongside the Colorado River and cross delicate ecosystems. It has drawn lawsuits and vocal pushback from environmental groups and political opponents ranging from Eagle County commissioners and the mayor of Glenwood Springs to high-profile Democrats like U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse.

The Forest Service’s decision follows an August 2023 ruling from the U.S. Court of Appeals that struck down the Surface Transportation Board’s approval of the project. It only voids a 2022 permit it issued to build a new 12-mile section of railway through the Ashley National Forest in Utah.

Still, opponents see the move as a win that protects Colorado’s environment and communities from potential derailments and crude oil spills from as many as five 2-mile-long oil tankers per day — and a victory in the climate movement’s bigger project of stymying drilling projects.

“We will remain diligent and attentive to what we are sure will be further efforts to revive this project driven by special corporate interests,” Eagle County Commissioner Matt Scherr said in a statement.

The group backing the rail project, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, says the new rail line would be safer and more reliable than trucks to transport crude oil to refineries. A representative for the group did not respond to CPR News’ request for comment.