Tom Clyde: Not even in my neighbor’s backyard
I went to the open house in Kamas on the Tesoro pipeline proposal. The brownies were excellent. It was all downhill from there. First off, let me say that I am not an unbiased observer of this. The proposed Uinta Express pipeline will come through my ranch. Depending on how they jog through or around a neighborhood of cabins, where finding a 50-foot wide corridor will be difficult without rearranging somebody’s furniture, it could come back on to my family’s property again. At minimum, it’s about 1,800 feet, and could be more than double that if they change alignments.
In my immediate neighborhood, it will have to cross the South Fork of the Provo River, and the main stem of the Provo, plus another side stream, then cross the Provo at least twice more before leaving Woodland. There are a couple of drinking water sources and several wells in its path. Not to mention that the Provo River is the drinking water supply for Salt Lake and Utah Counties. It’s the same story all along the Weber drainage.
The maps were better than what they presented in Heber a few months ago, but still lacked clear labels and identifiers such as giving the names of streets and other landmarks. It was very difficult to follow it. By the time the line gets into Francis, it takes an unexpected route through the open fields east of Highway 32 and west of Foothill Drive. Most people had assumed, based on the information Tesoro has put out before, that it would more closely follow the existing Chevron line, which is mostly west of Francis. I hope the people affected by that got the word and were there.
It was a frustrating meeting. Part of the frustration was a lack of clarity. People wanted to know if their farms or ranches would be disrupted, or if their houses would be knocked out of the way. That level of detail still isn’t being made available, though I have to believe it exists. The real frustration, though, was that we don’t really have a say in this. They weren’t looking for our opinions.
Pipeline companies have the right to condemn your property. Period. It will get built where some engineer in Texas decides it should go, and the apple tree that your great-grandmother planted when they homesteaded the ground you live on won’t stop them. You get paid what they think your land is worth. If you don’t like their offer, you can spend a fortune on legal fees contesting the amount in court. Shut up and take your medicine.
There was even a greater sense of frustration over the idea that it has to be built at all. The crowd at the Kamas Middle School was a fascinating mix of old Kamas ranching families, whose ancestors chased the last Indians out, and a new breed of residents who moved here because Kamas is still relatively untouched and natural. They are different kinds of environmentalists, but both share a similar concern about the land and water. All you had to do is glance down, and see the combination of cowboy boots and flip-flops, to know this was an unusual gathering. Normally, you would expect those two crowds to be lined up against each other. This time, they were all together, worried about oil leaking into the rivers, and the general disruption and damage from the project.
Nobody wants the pipeline. Nobody wants the oil tankers on the local roads. Oil production is increasing so rapidly in the Uinta Basin that the pipeline really won’t reduce the truck traffic. At best it slows the increase. There are no good options. Building a refinery in the Uinta Basin doesn’t get the finished gasoline to the gas station. It would still have to move by truck or pipeline to the Wasatch Front where the market is. I don’t know if it’s better to have thick crude oil or explosive gasoline running through the pipe in the back yard.
Nobody wants anything to do with this. Nobody wants it in their backyard, and nobody was all that happy about having it in their neighbor’s backyard, either. Pipelines have a reasonable safety record, but a spill into the Provo or Weber Rivers would be a disaster. Are those risks we really need to take? This oil production and transportation is a dirty, risky business, and nobody at the meeting wanted anything to do with it.
And then we all left and got in our cars to drive home. Mine was nearly out of gas, and I really should have stopped and filled up while I was in town, but somehow, that was just more irony than I could take.
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.