Riding the wave of higher oil prices, Duchesne County increased production by 78 percent from 2010 to 2014. In the same period, new federal permitting regulations pushed oil producers to private and tribal lands. This decreased county revenues but jobs were still plentiful—Duchesne residents had the highest average pay in the state. The population exploded: in 2013, Duchesne grew at the second fastest pace in the nation.
When prices dropped in 2014, county revenues plummeted. From 2014–2015, approximately 749 jobs were lost and employment became scarce.
Federal lands make up 44.4 percent of Duchesne County’s land, with another 20 percent being tribal lands. However, Duchesne County has almost 13 percent more private land than Uintah County (28 vs 15 percent respectively).
The oil deposits in Duchesne County are on federal, state, tribal, and private land. Due to increasingly difficult federal land regulations and permitting however, a large percentage of natural resource production within the county occurs on tribal and private lands—significantly more than neighboring Uintah County. Having such high percentages of production on private and tribal lands has unique consequences for the county and its communities.
Private: Development of private lands has increased the amount of oil traffic on paved county and municipal roadways within Duchesne County. This increases the amount of maintenance required by both levels of government, but does not bring in tax revenue equal to the level of wear and tear on roads. Private land development also creates issues between landowners and mineral rights owners. Many people have purchased land without owning or controlling the extraction of minerals that lie beneath, leading to misunderstandings between property owners and mineral rights owners.
Tribal: Development on tribal lands results in very little revenue returning to the county via severance taxes on wells drilled. The concern mirrors development on private lands: development occurring on tribal lands uses county roads to get oil out, but does not provide funds equal to the cost of the maintenance.
Having high levels of production on these two land ownership types increases funding challenges for Duchesne County with respect to roadways and other capital projects under their jurisdiction.
Less Natural Gas
Duchesne County was the third largest producer of natural gas in 2013 at 9.5 percent of Utah’s total production. This relatively large amount of natural gas development does counter-balance oil production in some respects. However, production is far too low to actually offset oil revenues during low price periods. In addition, recent low gas prices will likely result in less natural gas production than previous years for Duchesne and Uintah Counties.
State Highway 40, the primary thoroughfare for all Basin traffic, runs through the center of Duchesne County and her largest communities. This large amount of traffic benefits communities in many ways, increasing gas and roadside purchases, but it also creates challenges for the communities.
Highways 40 and 191 are both state roads and their maintenance is the responsibility of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT). Basin leaders expressed appreciation for the high-quality job UDOT does in manging the highways. Opportunities for improvement exist, but overall most people were pleased. The significant impact of boom-time traffic makes maintenance difficult, especially when considering the Basin’s hot summers and cold winters.
As the only truck route to nearby refineries, highway maintenance impacts the oil industry in the Uintah Basin more than other basins. Because waxy crudes solidify over time, quick transportation is of the utmost concern to Basin production and hauling companies. Similarly, the amount of time drivers are on the road increases costs in personnel, fuel, and maintenance. In this industry, time literally is money. This makes timing repairs on Highway 40 important.
Multiple Duchesne County communities have Highway 40 as their main street, making repairs in these areas difficult for UDOT and the communities. During high production periods, managing the repairs of these streets has serious implications for mainstreet businesses, quality of life, and the amount of time it takes trucks to get to market. In addition, these towns have hundreds of large oil trucks rumbling through each day, further disrupting the ambiance of small-town mainstreets.
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