SALT LAKE CITY — The monumental shifts in the price of oil are already helping to keep cash in motorists' wallets, but they're also creating a market change that could ultimately improve air quality along the Wasatch Front.
Consider that the use of one 50-car shuttle train carrying Uinta Basin crude oil is the equivalent of removing 200 to 250 heavy-duty trucks off U.S. 40, the east-west corridor that is the current pipeline to get oil from the Uinta Basin to Salt Lake City refineries.
Getting that oil to market at the right price — and ensuring the right infrastructure and policies are in place — were part of the focus of a workshop Thursday in Duchesne County hosted by key state government energy offices in Utah.
Laura Nelson, director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development, said when people think of "infrastructure" along the Wasatch Front, they likely think of the next park that will be built, or another bike path or amenity that boosts quality of life.
In contrast, infrastructure in the rural regions of Utah are the essential services that can make or break the ability of a company to set up shop and conduct business, such as roads, sewer, water and other utilities. The infrastructure, particularly in the Uinta Basin, is the difference between getting a product to market or being hemmed in by distance and geography.
Tim Stanley sees rail as the way to revolutionize Wasatch Front access to the low sulfur waxy crude produced in the basin — crude that is desirable because it produces fewer emissions and is better for air quality than its counterparts.
Stanley, one of the presenters at the live-streamed conference, is president of Global One Transport, the developer and one of the managing partners in the Price River Terminal.
The terminal, which has been shipping Uinta Basin crude to multiple U.S. destinations since it began operations in 2014, is now eying Salt Lake City as a potential market because the demand is there.
"We are at the very beginning stage of looking at this," he stressed. "I look at things incrementally. Rome was not built in a day."
At the time the Price River Terminal was built, there was more production than capacity at Salt Lake City area refineries, by about 20,000 barrels per day. With the price of crude oil down drastically and oil producers dialing back on what they're pulling from the ground, the situation has changed.
"Right now, there is very little oil coming out of the basin, Salt Lake City is not full and the price of oil is so low," Stanley said, adding that the price a producer can get for oil drives how far they're willing to ship their product.
"Everything has changed," he said.
Both HollyFrontier and Tesoro have upped their capacity to refine oil, including specialized equipment to handle the waxy crude from the basin, and now there is a shortfall.
Stanley sees that as a change that would allow Price River Terminal to fill that gap, and, correspondingly, take a swipe at one source of the Wasatch Front's air pollution problems.
"Ideally we would like to get to the point where we get all of those trucks off the road," he said.
The workshop also included updates on the work of the Six Counties Infrastructure Coalition — made up of Carbon, Uintah, San Juan, Duchesne, Emery and Daggett — which is meeting next month in Montrose, Colorado, with potential government partners in Colorado and Wyoming to discuss more corridor options for regional goods.