First Tar Sands Mine in US Faces Fierce Resistance in Utah

Yesterday, the tar sands industry met unexpected opposition.

The Salt Lake Tribune captured it best:

“A small Canadian company, in need of millions for its ambitious plans, also is facing stiff opposition from two Utah environmental groups that are trying to thwart its efforts to build one of the first commercial tar sand mines in the country.”

Photo credit: Sarah A. Miller/Deseret News

The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM), held a hearing on Canadian company Earth Energy Resources’ proposal to mine tar sands in Grand and Uintah Counties in Eastern Utah. Well over half of the people attending the hearing came to support Peaceful Uprising and Living Rivers in opposing the mine. John Baza, Director of the the Division noted that there were far more people than usually attend these hearings.

“This project has no real value or contribution to society,” said John Weisheit, Colorado Riverkeeper and Conservation Director of Living Rivers. “The total amount of oil produced by this mine over seven years of operation would cover just 4 hours of American oil demand – a tiny blip on the radar. However, it will take millennia to restore the watershed they are about to destroy.”

And for that small amount of oil, Earth Energy Resources and the State of Utah are willing to put the entire Colorado River watershed and the 30 million people it supports at risk. Here are a few of the concerns we brought up at the hearing:

  • The oil produced by the mine would increase the amount of tar sands oil refined in the Salt Lake area by 13%. This places local communities at increased risk for contamination from arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel, cyanide and other toxic substance.
  • The mine will generate significant amounts of dust, which contaminates local bodies of water and settles on snowpack, causing it to melt faster.
  • Although tar sands produce on average three times the greenhouse gas emissions as conventional oil, the DOGM refuses to take climate change into account for the permitting of this mine.
  • Earth Energy Resources already has a poor track record in preventing groundwater contamination. Their pilot mine was essentially abandoned, left unlined, unmonitored and untreated for years, available for wildlife and livestock to consume.
  • The chemicals to be used by Earth Energy Resources have been untested as potential carcinogens, or reproductive and developmental risks, and are known to be endocrine disruptors.

Earth Energy Resources claims they will operate the mine with zero discharge, but there is no man-made technology that can guarantee zero leakage of contamination into our waters.

Steve Adler, an attorney with the Utah Energy Office, asserted that the DOGM was simply approving the permit according the requirements set by the State of Utah, and that DOGM wasn’t responsible for addressing many of the objections raised in the hearing, specifically climate change and water impacts. Baza will decide within a month whether or not to uphold the agency’s decision to approve the mine permit.

The biggest message that came out of this hearing is that no one is steering this ship. There is no single agency or government body evaluating whether tar sands development is actually a good idea for Utah. Instead, each agency simply approves rules and permits that were not designed for to regulate the tar sands industry. If Utah is going to consider opening up its lands and waters to tar sands, we should actually have that conversation about Utah’s energy future.

“This is only the beginning,” said Ashley Anderson, Coordinator of Peaceful Uprising. “Communities around the state and country are getting active in opposing the tar sands. We’ll be there fighting back every step of the way.”

Thank you to everyone who attended the hearing and everyone who has gotten involved in our work to stop the tar sands!