Tar Sands are the best we can do?

Written by Deb Henry

Did you know Canada is now the biggest oil supplier to the United States?

The Alberta Tar Sands are one of the most horrific environmental catastrophes of all time — yet bring Shell and it’s Big Oil bandwagon record profits at the expense of the local population, world population and landscape. The area in Canada that has been devastated is larger than the state of
and has diagnosed unprecedented numbers of rare cancers occurring in the same area. Fuel from the oil sands is the dirtiest in the world, producing three times the global warming pollution as conventional oil.

Tar Sands have never been thought to be economically viable in the USA. I’m not even really sure they make sense now, but there is a company called Earth Energy Resources that is going to try to find out. They’re opening the first tar sands mine in the United States…and it’s going to be here in Utah. The process itself is extremely energy intensive producing a low energy return on investment compared to the original energy investment. It’s one thing if an investment is energy intensive to produce a cleaner energy source…but tar sands use a dirty energy investment to produce a even dirtier energy product. This is a huge step in the wrong direction.

“A nation that does not innovate has no wings. A country that does not innovate, stagnates.” – Joe Biden

Tar Sands (also called Oil Sands in Canada) produce an unconventional fossil fuel from bitumen, a “thick tar-like substance” that is the lowest grade of crude oil. According to Earth Energy Resources, after strip-mining, the ore will be heated and treated with chemicals into a slurry with the “consistency of a thick gritty milkshake.” One the bitumen is separated from this slurry, it is cooked and upgraded to a synthetic crude oil and trucked to refineries. Refineries remove and store toxic pollutants such as arsenic, cyanide, benzene, salt, lead,
mercury and nickel before finally processing the crude into gasoline or diesel fuel.

This process is going to consume other dirty fossil fuels …to produce more fossil fuels. There is a natural gas pipeline nearby which will help run the machinery that makes this mining possible. Natural gas in and of itself is a gross process that uses the under-regulated hydraulic fracturing, and the so-called clean energy it produces is being used to mine one of the ugliest forms of energy that exists. The mine will also have diesel generators on hand just in case the supply of natural gas is unavailable. The materials will be trucked in on a dirt road (that is not designed for large trucks) to haul these materials. This will produce large amounts of dust which will blow right into neighboring states (if even more water is not used to constantly spray down the roads), potentially compromising their ski resorts. The only way that EER is going to be able to make this a profitable enterprise is by externalizing the consequences onto us.

For each barrel of oil that is produced, two barrels of water will be used (4,000 barrels per day, total). These means that water rights which would have typically gone to down-stream farmers, are going to be used by EER. The PR Spring Mine Tar Sands Mine site is situated right between the Colorado River, Green River and White River. The potential contamination of a river system that funnels down into Lake Mead and Lake Powell, not to mention Mexico is very real. We don’t need a disaster like the mess in the Gulf of Mexico poisoning such a critical water source.

Is this the best innovation we can come up with for energy? Are we really willing to endure the consequences of all of these byproducts, not to mention water consumption? The production capacity is only going to be 2,000 barrels of oil per day. Contrast this against 19,500,000 barrels per day that the USA consumes. This isn’t even going to be a drop in the bucket and Utah is going to be the place that endures the consequences for the over-consumption of the USA as a whole.

Hands Across the Sand rally in Salt Lake City, 6/26/10, showing our unity for an end to oil consumption.

Beyond Earth Energy Resources, several other companies are lining up to mine tar sands in Utah, including Nevtah, Korea Technology Industry of America (KTIA), and Red Leaf Resources. The outcome of the Earth Energy Resources PR Spring Mine will set the tone for future tar sands development in Utah and the country. If the mine is constructed, it will ease the way for increased future tar sands extraction. But if we stop the PR Spring Mine, it will send a message to investors that Utahns do not want tar sand mines in our state.

Utah deserves better.

Why not just create good-paying, lasting American jobs that wind and solar and efficiency projects create — the kind of jobs that can’t be outsourced. Instead of investing in these strip-mine-sinkholes of temporary solutions to energy, Utah could be creating real, constant sources of energy and jobs. We could be creating new markets and new technology for alternatives but instead we continue to spin our wheels by clinging to our oil dependency.

What you can do:

  • Come see the movie H2Oil on 7/20, at
    7:30pm in SLC, location currently at the Unitarian Church, but may
    change to a larger venue.
  • Come to the meeting at 7/27, 2pm, at the DOGM
  • Join the mailing list at Peaceful Uprising.
  • Help us get local businesses to sign on that they don’t want tar
    sand mines in Utah.