Three of Utah's five oil refineries are seeking or already in the process of ramping up production levels and upgrading facilities. For the state, that could mean more commerce, more jobs and more tax revenue. But for Wasatch and Summit counties, increasing oil production means that U.S. 40 and the I-80 Junction will carry more trucks, more traffic, from expansion plans.
Refineries along the Wasatch Front are working with the Department of Environmental Quality, seeking more access into Eastern Utah's Uintah Basin.
"There is quite a bit of traffic, most of it centers along the rural cities like Vernal, Roosevelt and Heber," said Shane Marshall, Utah Department of Transportation Region Three Director, who oversees Eastern Utah including Wasatch County. "That's where you see the traffic. Along the actual corridor, traffic drops off quite a bit."
The focus on the Uintah Basin area became possible as technology and oil prices made processing the thicker crude oils in the basin more feasible. The refineries will be able to process three times more paraffinic-based crude, or black or yellow wax petroleum, than they were six years ago, cementing Utah's place on the national forefront in oil refinery and production.
"We originally received state permission in 2008 to increase production," said Mike Astin of the oil producer HollyFrontier, "and we planned to bring in more crude from Canada. Since then, we've done several upgrades to reduce emissions and the economics have shifted so that we could increase in production of local crude.
"We've revised what we're doing and now we're planning on increasing throughput by increasing Eastern Utah's crude oil production."
The stretch of road from Eastern Utah to the Salt Lake Valley and Refinery Row, a nickname for the centralized refineries, can expect hundreds more trucks along its corridors, with most of the traffic along U.S. 40. Truck traffic from HollyFrontier is expected to increase by roughly 10 percent, from an estimated 40 trucks in a day to upwards of 160 between Duchesne County and Wasatch County, Astin said.
Traffic along U.S. 40 has already been increasing over the part decade, and interest among legislators and Wasatch County include plans to increase traffic capacity along the route to something that resembles the four-lane section linking Summit and Wasatch County.
"Summit County may have a better benefit than other counties," said Jason Davis, the Utah Department of Transportation Region Two Director responsible for Salt Lake and Summit counties. "The roads trucks will be traveling have no traffic signals and allow for two lanes of traffic each direction. We already have the capacity to handle the additional traffic."
Tom Greer, supervisor of the Daniels Port of Entry that leads into Wasatch County, said that he believes crude oil-related traffic has increased at a steady, healthy rate of six percent of more for the past six years.
"A lot of people might think it's just the crude oil that's being hauled," Greer said, "but diesel fuel is also being hauled back and forth to support the trucks. And then there is all the by product: the oil field support, acid run off, water service, seismic trucks."
"We see everything twice," he added, "everything to the refinery and then the refined fuels that goes into gas tanks."
Concerns that the increase in traffic could impact local neighborhoods, especially in places were U.S. 40 cuts through small town traffic, have been raised as refineries seek DEQ permits to expand production.
"If you lived on a road the trucks had to pass through, you would notice it for sure," he added. "But it is not as obvious once you are farther away from town centers."
Trucks would be traveling through would be the heart of Heber City, down Main Street. The city has plans to create an alternate route going around the center of town, a bypass that is still in the early stages of development.
"The eastern side of our state has been an area that has continued to grow over the last several years in spite of the economy," Marshall said. "With that traffic has increased, but the State Legislature has continued to invest in U.S. 40. Just this last year, we installed three miles of passing lanes in critical points along the corridor. That's going to continue."
Overall growth would be minimal in comparison to the traffic the state road is already supporting, said HollyFrontier's Astin. Economic growth for the area, while still uncertain, could also benefit from the expansion, he said. HollyFrontier expects to reduce the refinery's emissions by close to 10 percent, possible because the waxy crudes of Eastern Utah are lower in sulfur.
"I think more production would have a positive impact in the area," Astin said. "When the University of Utah looked at the economic impact, they estimated that the impact would create 1,500 additional jobs in the state outside of the refinery."
"State tax revenue would double from 2010 to just the first phase, from $32 million to $64 million. The positive side is all the additional commerce."
Astin said many of the trucks that would carry the crude oil would be new with cleaner emissions.
"I would imagine with additional truck traffic you get additional commerce," he added. "But it may also mean more repairs done to roads."