Do Ya' Think I’m Waxy? - Will Waxy-Crude-by-Rail Support Uinta Basin Production?

There’s a lot to like about the unusual, waxy crude oil produced in the Uinta Basin in northeastern Utah. Low production costs, minimal sulfur content, next-to-no contaminants, and favorable medium-to-high API numbers. Oh, and there’s plenty of the stuff — huge reserves. The catch is that waxy crude has a shoe-polish-like consistency at room temperature, and has to be heated into a liquid state for storage and transportation. As you’d expect, refineries in nearby Salt Lake City are regular buyers; they receive waxy crude via insulated tanker trucks. They can only use so much though. Lately, a couple of Gulf Coast refineries have been railing in occasional shipments of waxy crude, but getting it onto heated rail cars involves a white-knuckle tanker-truck drive across a 9,100-foot-high mountain pass to a transloading facility. Now, finally, crude-by-rail access from the heart of the Uinta is poised to become a reality, offering the potential for much easier access to distant markets and, possibly, a big boost in Uinta production. In today’s blog, we provide an update on waxy crude and its prospects.

“Do Ya Think I’m Waxy?” is, we’ve come to believe, one of our readers’ favorite blog titles. (It’s certainly one of ours — we’ve used it seven times since 2013!) Besides, what song other than the Rod Stewart classic would be a better fit for a blog series delving into the Uinta Basin’s waxy crude oil? And how can we help but write every so often about what may be one of the quirkiest hydrocarbons ever? Well, it’s time for another look at waxy crude, because a lot’s been going on in the Uinta.

As we said in our most recent blog series on the topic (back in 2019), the Uinta Basin (blue-shaded area in Figure 1) — pronounced “you-IN-ta” — includes parts of Utah’s Duchesne and Uintah counties, which are located more than 100 miles east/southeast of Salt Lake City. In the past 70-plus years, the basin’s many stacked, hydrocarbon-bearing layers have produced almost 900 MMbbl of crude oil, the vast majority of it either “black wax” crude with an API gravity of 30 to 34 degrees or “yellow wax” crude with API gravity of 38 to 44 degrees.

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