Opinion | The business of oil trains, local nuclear and clean energy in Grand
Grand Enterprise Initiative
The entire business of renewable energy, carbon pollution and local energy self-sufficiency comes to mind for me as debate continues about the massive oil trains that could be coming through Grand County in the future.
As reported in many places, there’s a proposal out there to run up to 10 additional long trains on the rails through Grand County each day to take advantage of oil fields in Utah. It’s a big deal because a new rail spur needs to be built in Utah to link up to the line that runs through Grand County.
Permitting is well underway to allow this. If allowed, the new rail spur will be built and “heavy,” tar-like crude would be shipped on rail through Grand County to refineries east of here.
Of course I’d rather not see this happen because I see the potential for disastrous spills into the Fraser River in the Fraser Canyon, the Colorado River in Byer’s and Gore canyons. This is not to mention that the rail line essentially goes right next to my backyard. My land touches railroad property.
And then I look at my car, which runs on a gasoline-powered engine. I look at all the cars and trucks zipping around the county and the state, most on gasoline or diesel. I look at the planes in the sky running on petroleum. And then there’s the electricity I use, which has a component of carbon-fueled power. I feel a sense of futility thinking that somehow all that power will be replaced by carbon-free or renewable energy. Probably not in my lifetime.
Which is my way of saying there simply has to be a bridge that gets the world from carbon-based energy to carbon-free energy. Part of that bridge is petroleum. And some of that petroleum could very well come from those oil fields in Utah that may just be passing through the county and jeopardizing our environment, which is to say, water.
Our transition just might need that oil so that the bridge to renewables is relatively inexpensive.
And our economy here does depend on the railroad, believe it or not. Perhaps the best gauge of that is the amount of property taxes paid to Grand County by the Union Pacific Railroad. For fiscal 2021 the Union Pacific Railroad was the second largest property taxpayer in the county with an assessed valuation of nearly $21.7 million. That’s a lot of money to the county coffers and to other political subdivisions in property tax revenues.
I know the railroad will survive with surplus profits with or without the new oil trains passing through the county. But the importance of rail to the county is something to consider, regardless.
Speaking of the bridge to renewables and, perhaps, local energy self-sufficiency, I can’t help but consider the importance of nuclear power as a way to get us from now to total renewable power sometime in the future. I think the development of the new advanced, small nuclear reactors should play a role in that energy transition.
I think we could do it locally, creating jobs and new local revenue streams.
The U. S. Department of Energy says that these advanced, small nuclear reactors are safe, clean and affordable and can be placed in areas where the larger reactors with which we are familiar could not be placed. Perhaps one such reactor, carefully placed somewhere in Grand or Jackson counties, could give us our own power that is clean and reliable for years to come. And get us to clean, renewable power in the future without breaking the bank.
Patrick Brower is the Enterprise Facilitator for the Grand Enterprise Initiative. He provides free and confidential business management coaching for anyone who wants to start or expand a business in Grand County. He is also the author of the book “KILLDOZER: The True Story of the Colorado Bulldozer Rampage.” He can be reached at 970-531-0632 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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