Quantcast

First U.S. Tar Sands Mine Approved in Utah

DeSmogBlog

By Steve Horn

A group of about 10 people hiked to Delicate Arch in Utah on July 17 as part of an international protest to stop tar sands developments across the globe. On Oct. 24, the Utah Water Quality Board approved the first tar sands mine on U.S. soil, handing a permit to U.S. Oil Sands.

The race is on for the up-and-coming U.S. tar sands industry. To date, the tar sands industry is most well-known for the havoc it continues to wreak in Alberta, Canada—but its neighbor and fellow petrostate to the south may soon join in on the fun

On Oct. 24, the Utah Water Quality Board (UWQB) approved the first tar sands mine on U.S. soil, handing a permit to U.S. Oil Sands, a company whose headquarters are based in Alberta, despite it's name. 

In a 9-2 vote, the UWQB gave U.S. Oil Sands the green light to begin extracting bitumen from its PR Spring Oil Sands Project, located in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah. The UWQB concluded that there's no risk of groundwater pollution from tar sands extraction for the prospective mining project.  

Members of the public were allowed to attend the hearing but "were not permitted to provide input," according to The Salt Lake Tribune

"The PR Spring project remains on track for commercial startup late in 2013, and the decision ultimately illustrates the merits that our responsible approach to oil sands development has for the environment and local communities," Cameron Todd, CEO of U.S. Oil Sands stated in a press release in response to the decision.

Living Rivers, the Moab, Utah-based offshoot of Colorado Riverkeeper says it will likely appeal the decision to the state's court system, "arguing that tar sands mining will contaminate groundwater in a largely undeveloped area of Utah's Book Cliffs region that drains into the Colorado River," explained the Associated Press

In an Oct. 9 interview on Democracy Now!, John Weisheit, conservation director of Living Rivers said the harms associated with looming tar sands extraction in the Uinta Basin aren't merely limited to groundwater contamination. Rather, the entire surrounding ecosystem would be endangered. He told Amy Goodman:

Well, we’re concerned because this particular locality is in a high-elevation place called the Tavaputs Plateau, and it’s one of the last wild places in Utah. It’s a huge refuge for elk and deer. It’s also a beautiful watershed. It not only would affect the Colorado River, but it also—at this particular site, it’s at the top of the drainage, so it would also affect the White River and the Green River.

The PR Spring mining site is 5,930 contiguous acres with a "land position totaling 32,005 acres of bitumen extraction rights on leases in the State of Utah," according to U.S. Oil Sands' financial statement for the first half of 2012. AP explained that U.S. Oil Sands plans to extract 2,000 barrels of tar sands crude in Utah in 2012, "in the start of what could grow into a much larger operation."

Two main grassroots activist groups are currently battling Utah's upstart tar sands industry: Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Before It Starts. "The Utah Water Quality Board is an entirely inappropriate authority for determining the safety of both water safety and water availability for the 30 million people who depend on the Colorado River, most of which do not live in Utah," Kate Finneran, co-director of Before It Starts told DeSmogBlog in an interview.

Though Living Rivers will appeal the decision, U.S. Oil Sands isn't wasting any time in forging ahead, and according to the AP is already "looking to take on a partner, ordering equipment, hiring Utah contractors and preparing the site" for extraction.

According to a Sept. 2012 story by Inside Climate News, 5,900+ acres is a drop in the bucket for an industry sitting on some 232,065 acres of land open for tar sands extraction in the state of Utah.

The U.S. tar sands are deemed a "strategically important domestic resource that should be developed to reduce the growing dependence of the U.S. on politically and economically unstable sources of foreign oil imports" in Sec. 369 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.

Most well-known for the "Halliburton Loophole," the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts oil and gas corporations from complying with the dictates of the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act, making the chemicals injected into the ground (and into groundwater) while hydraulic fractruing for unconventional gas a "trade secret." The law was written with the helping hand of oil and gas executives via then Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Task Force in 2001.

By legal mandate, it appears, the race to extract bitumen from "Tar Sands South" has just begun. It's a race that, like the one being run by its Canadian neighbor to the north, can't possibly end well for the ecosystem, public health, water quality and the global climate.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY page for more related news on this topic.

 

Sponsored
PeopleImages / E+ / Getty Images

By Daniel Ross

Hurricane Florence, which battered the U.S. East Coast last September, left a trail of ruin and destruction estimated to cost between $17 billion and $22 billion. Some of the damage was all too visible—smashed homes and livelihoods. But other damage was less so, like the long-term environmental impacts in North Carolina from hog waste that spilled out over large open-air lagoons saturated in the rains.

Hog waste can contain potentially dangerous pathogens, pharmaceuticals and chemicals. According to the state's Department of Environmental Quality, as of early October nearly 100 such lagoons were damaged, breached or were very close to being so, the effluent from which can seep into waterways and drinking water supplies.

Read More Show Less
This picture taken on May 21, 2018 shows discarded climbing equipment and rubbish scattered around Camp 4 of Mount Everest. Decades of commercial mountaineering have turned Mount Everest into the world's highest rubbish dump as an increasing number of big-spending climbers pay little attention to the ugly footprint they leave behind. DOMA SHERPA / AFP / Getty Images

China has closed its Everest base camp to tourists because of a buildup of trash on the world's tallest mountain.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Berezko / iStock / Getty Images

The last thing on your mind in February is gardening. But this is prime time to prepare for a very important task: planting fruit trees.

Read More Show Less
Researchers tested the eggs of Arctic northern fulmers like these in Nunavut, Canada. Fiona Paton / Flickr

By Madison Dapcevich

Plastics have been recorded in every corner of the world, from the remote icy waters of Antarctica to the bellies of deep-sea fishes. Now, preliminary findings presented at this year's American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) annual meeting in Washington, DC suggest that bird eggs from the high Arctic—one of the most remote wildernesses on the planet—show evidence of contamination from chemicals used in plastics.

Read More Show Less
The Bramble Cay melomys. State of Queensland / CC BY 3.0 AU

A small Australian rat that lived on a 12 acre island in the Great Barrier Reef has become the first mammal to go extinct primarily because of human-caused climate change, the Australian Government confirmed Monday.

The Bramble Cay melomys was first declared extinct after a 2014 search on Bramble Cay, its native island in the Torres Strait, between Queensland, Australia and Papua New Guinea, according to a 2016 report by the University of Queensland and the Queensland government.

Read More Show Less