First US Tar Sands to Break Ground in Utah

[This was originally posted on It’s Getting Hot in Here on March 17, 2010]

In Grand County, Utah, people are thirsty. Utah is a desert state; it’s a thirsty place. What we love about Utah is its unique, gorgeous, otherworldly geography, which keeps us coming back or sticking around. So explain this logic to me: a horrifying and unprecedented project could put Utah’s Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon Recreation Area at serious risk, while at the same time thrusting a new source of water-depleting, CO2-billowing, filthy, and geographically destructive (but pseudoprofitable!) business into the equation.

I’m talking about the first ever bona fide tar sands extraction project in the United States of America–right here, in my own backyard!

Tar SandsYou might have heard about the tar sands extraction happening in Canada. This nightmarish debacle has transformed countless acres of priceless Canadian biodiversity into a sticky black cesspool, for primarily America consumption. Don’t take my word for it; do a simple Google image search for “Canadian Tar Sands.” After you’ve done that, imagine the effect these proposed tar pits would have on the land immediately adjacent to the sites. Now picture that land as Canyonlands National Park. I’m not making this up.

The citizens of the areas where the proposed pits would be created have had absolutely no say in the permit acquisition and decision-making surrounding this project—and the pits might potentially break ground this year. Did I mention the entire operation would be run by Canada-based Earth Energy Resources? The company made their excited announcement in November of 2009, although Grand County citizens weren’t made aware of the impending project until this month.

Utah Clean Energy, an independent organization devoted to exploring Utah’s potential for alternative and renewable energy resources, recently released a study that explains, in detail, how exactly Utah could create hundreds of new jobs and bring in millions of dollars in new GDP by exploring alternative energy and beefing up our energy efficiency standards. And yet, here in Utah, while 95% of our electricity depends on coal-fired power, our geographical uniqueness is fundamental to our state pride and one main source of tourism revenue, and water scarcity is fast becoming a frightening illustration of some of the foreseeable impacts of climate change, we (and by “we”” I mean a wealthy-but-desperate handful of powerful and shady Utah businesses) want to welcome an industry that would use between twice and five times as much water per barrel to produce oil–oil that wouldn’t even be ready for use before undergoing  an expensive and emissions-rich cultivation process.

Using tar sands, also known as oil sands, as a “cheap” source of fuel is a joke. According to the Pembina Institute, mining tar sands requires between 750 and 1500 cubic feet of natural gas for each barrel of oil. I’m not great at math, but that doesn’t seem terribly economical to my mind. The tar sands mining and extraction process produces three times as many CO2 emissions as regular oil production; the Alberta tar sands project is Canada’s number one source for CO2 emissions. As far as I can see, the only positive thing about introducing tar sands mining into the United States it that it might (and this is a BIG might) reduce our dependence on, and merciless exploitation of, Canada’s tar sands resources, which we are currently reaping without remorse to fuel our morning commute. Why import Canadian tar sands fuel, and the technology to destroy our own land and water for American tar sands?

When you assess the fact that it takes five liters of water to produce one of usable petrol via tar sands extraction, this starts to seem blatantly criminal in a desert state. The privatization of water is a scary dream that is slowly folding itself into our reality, and when you realize that water is required every step of the way with tar sands extraction—to move gas, to build new tar pits, and to provide a waste receptacle for the filthy pits once they are up and running—you start to wonder where all this water will come from, in Utah. Colorado and Nevada are not too excited about sharing their drinkable water with us, of late.

So, what will it be, America? Should we urge Utah to become a leader on the alternative energy frontier, securing our economic and environmental future for our children—or shall we allow her to regress a decade or three, and become the nation’s very first home to tar sands extraction—and its subsequent leader in toxic emissions and contributions to global climate change? My decision is made. We are exploring every avenue for ways to stop this project, and we will update you on how you can take action to help. The tar sands nightmare will not be allowed into my beloved home state and our fine nation, if I have anything at all to do with it.

[Note: We are still trying to figure out the best ways to take action, so as soon as we have a good outlet, we will let you know.]

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