Tom Clyde: Crude realities
February 8, 2014
The other day, as I was driving my petroleum-powered car along Highway 40 to the Jordanelle Gondola, I was grumbling about the oil tankers on the road. They creep along at a snail’s pace — a gigantic snail, but a snail, just the same. In my small car, looking out at eye-level axles, they seem even bigger. There is a steady stream of them, almost like a train, stretching from the Uinta Basin oil fields to the refineries in Salt Lake.
They are a menace in Parley’s Canyon, grinding over the summit at a slow crawl, and then averaging out the speed by letting it rip on the downhill side. I’m surprised they aren’t tipping over every day. Life would certainly be more pleasant if we got them off the road.
I don’t know for sure, but suspect that the recent kerfuffle over UDOT plowing Wolf Creek Pass open, stranding snowmobilers miles from their cars, had something to do with oil tankers. A surprising number of oil tankers climb over Wolf Creek as an alternative to Highway 40. Forty is shorter, straighter, flatter, and all around a better road for that kind of traffic. But there is a Highway Patrol check station where the trucks get weighed, and more importantly, the drivers get checked to see how many hours they have been driving. The assumption in my neighborhood is that every oil tanker coming over Wolf Creek Pass is over-weight, has sketchy brakes, and a driver who has been behind the wheel for three days straight. There’s something to think about when encountering one of them on a bicycle.
Get these behemoths off the road, I said to myself. I got home to find a notice that oil refiner Tesoro is proposing to do just that, by building a pipeline through my bedroom. There’s no perfect way to transport dangerous stuff. Rail cars derail and blow up whole towns. Trucks, just like the rest of us, get into accidents, contribute to traffic jams, and tip over and spill their loads. Pipelines eventually leak. They have a pretty good track record, all things considered, but Chevron has had its share of problems recently. They’ve leaked crude oil into Red Butte Creek near the University and a different line leaked diesel into the bird refuge at Willard Bay. They just spent a couple of years replacing the line where it crosses under the Provo River in several places.
The Chevron pipeline crosses my family’s property through an open pasture. Once it crosses the river, it goes through a neighborhood of cabins. In the Park City area, you can see the cut where it goes through Round Valley, behind the hospital, and through the Old Ranch Road neighborhood. It’s right behind Staples and Walmart, and on through Jeremy Ranch. It might be in your backyard.
The Tesoro proposal would put the new pipeline parallel to the old one through the Forest Service land, and presumably through my ranch. Except that there really isn’t room for another one there. The Chevron line was built in 1949. Even in quiet Woodland, a few things have changed since then. So they will have to deviate from the existing alignment, and somehow get through or around a row of houses. It’s not clear whose bedroom it will go through, but there isn’t a route that won’t disrupt somebody’s sleep.
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It sounds like they are looking for ways to avoid running it through the produce department at Walmart, and find a less built-up route than pushing through the suburban bliss at Kimball Junction. Still, if you live near the Chevron line, you should be paying attention.
This points out how complicated and connected everything is. Getting the trucks off the road is a benefit; a pipeline leak into the Provo River would pollute the water supply for a couple of million people. Salt Lake’s air is toxic, and moving the refineries out of the urban area would help clean it up, but the market for the gasoline is along the Wasatch Front. Pipe the crude to some remote location to be refined, and you end up with a different fleet of tankers bring it back to the market.
Driving an electric car seems like a solution, but behind every electric car there is a coal fired power plant. The tailpipe emissions get exported on the wire. Every Prius owner should make a field trip to the strip mines of Wyoming. They don’t seem so green.
Parking the car is an option, though not one that is going to happen. Maybe one day we will develop magic buses that run on unicorn poop. Until then, I suspect some of us will be living with a crude oil pipeline in the backyard.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.