Rich Fairservis drove a sport-utility vehicle along a bumpy, circular road in a sea of dirt and sagebrush.
“We’ve got about 100,000 yards of dirt to move,” he said. “We have to get this all level.”
The road traces what will become three concentric loops containing railroad track. Beginning in late spring 2014, empty trains will glide in and leave full of crude, said Fairservis, CEO of Casper-based Granite Peak Development LLC, one of the companies developing the project.
Developers will break ground Monday on the Casper Crude to Rail terminal, near Natrona County International Airport, after nine months of obtaining permits and rights of way. They needed more than 20 permits, including building permits, air-quality permits and easing permits from the county, state and BNSF Railway Co.
"We would have broken ground today but someone cast a spell on us," Fairservis said on Friday, referring to that day's snowstorm. "We will be moving dirt Monday."
It will be part of the private railroad development serving BNSF Railway Co. called the Casper Logistics Hub, 700 acres northwest of Casper near the Casper-Natrona County International Airport. The hub will consist of two parts: The existing CTRAN and the Casper Crude to Rail terminal, which is under construction.
CTRAN started in 2007 and is owned by Granite Peak Development and Shoshoni-based Bighorn Divide and Wyoming Railroad. The CCR is being developed by Granite Peak, Houston-based Cogent Energy Solutions LLC and New York City-based Stonepeak Infrastructure Partners. The project received money from the Wyoming Business Council to bring water and sewer to the development, Fairservis said.
CTRAN stands for Casper transloading. Transloading is the process of transferring products from one mode of transportation to another. At CTRAN, crews move products from BNSF rail cars to trucks and vice versa on 10 miles of railroad. Products include sand used in hydraulic fracturing, crude oil, propane, butane, lumber, shingles and other raw products.
When CCR opens, it will be eight miles of railroad devoted entirely to crude, which will arrive by truck or pipeline.
Trucked-in crude will come from fields west of town and could include crude from drilling planned for the Moneta Divide, an oil and gas project currently under regulatory review.
“The pipeline, that’s what makes this facility a more long-term project,” Fairservis said.
The pipeline crude will come from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, Fairservis said, along Spectra Energy’s Express Pipeline, which connects with the Platte pipeline in Casper. Granite Peak and its partners are building four miles of 30-inch pipeline to connect the Platte pipeline to the rail yard.
“We’re looking at other pipeline connectors, too,” Fairservis said.
The crude will be transferred into the rail cars through automation.
“It’s loading arms — these things are just like robots,” Fairservis said. “They’ll drop down over the hatch on top of the crude cars and will load each of the crude cars.”
At CTRAN, workers have to physically open and close the latches. The automated process will be safer and save time – at CTRAN it takes a couple of days to load a train. At CCR, the process will be done in 11 hours, Fairservis said.
Since CTRAN has separate contracts from CCR, the crude loading operations will remain separate, he said.
“We can load two unit trains a day” at CCR, he said.
A unit train consists of 110 rail cars – an advantage over semitrailers.
Each car has capacity for 71,000 to 77,000 gallons of oil. A semitrailer can only transport 220 gallons, Fairservis said.
Trains have an advantage over pipelines.
“You can get product to the East Coast, where maybe they don’t have pipelines,” Fairservis said.
Fairservis said oil from CCR will also head for the Gulf Coast and West Coast.
CCR will also have tanks for storing and blending heavy and light crude together, starting with 750,000 barrels. CCR is permitted to expand to 2 million barrels. Heavy crudes are hard to refine, which is why light crudes are blended in. Blending in Casper instead of in a refinery in Louisiana can save customers money, Fairservis said.
“They can get a higher value for their crude if their refineries have to deal with less handling of it,” he said.
Fairservis didn’t mention the names of customers contracted with CCR but said they would be "any of your major oil companies or major oil buyers," such as Royal Dutch Shell, Tesoro Corp. or Phillips 66.
Granite Peak Development is also developing the 7,400-acre Swan Ranch Rail Park in Cheyenne, which handles manufactured products and crude.