Owners Backtrack on Utah Tar Sands, Oil Shale Refinery Permitting

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Taylor McKinnon, Grand Canyon Trust, (801) 300-2414
David Garbett, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 486-3161
Marc Fink, Center for Biological Diversity, (218) 464-0539

Owners Backtrack on Utah Tar Sands, Oil Shale Refinery Permitting

SALT LAKE CITY - Facing a legal challenge from environmental groups, attorneys for Emery Refining on Monday announced the company’s plans to redo permitting for their proposed Green River oil refinery — Utah’s first new refinery since 1976. The refinery’s construction was approved on June 21 by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, but was appealed by groups in July for violating the Utah Air Conservation Act.

The refinery’s application calls for processing hydrocarbons from oil shale and tar sands — and it could facilitate strip mining of those fuels on leasable land in the Colorado River Basin. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that between 353 billion and 1.146 trillion barrels of oil in the Green River Formation’s oil shale deposits “have a high potential for development.” These estimates are 2 to 7 times the 170 billion barrels targeted in Alberta by the Keystone XL pipeline.

“This refinery is a stepping stone to vast strip mining, air pollution, and greenhouse emissions that would contribute to Colorado River drying, so this setback is welcomed news,” said Taylor McKinnon, director of energy with Grand Canyon Trust. “Instead of targeting some of the dirtiest fuels on the planet, we should pursue clean, renewable energy systems to safeguard air, water, land and climate for future generations.”

The refinery is heavily subsidized by Utah. The governor’s office approved a 12-year, $12,712,221 tax credit equating to 20 percent of new taxes that would be paid by Emery over the project’s lifetime. The refinery would emit volatile organic compounds, other hazardous pollutants and greenhouse gases while creating annual refining capacity for up to 7 million barrels of heavy crude in the Colorado River Basin.

“While the company is reconsidering its pollution permit, the state should reconsider its policy of paying a company to emit pollution,” said David Garbett, a staff attorney at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The state should pursue policies that will clean the air, not those that despoil it.”

Oil shale and tar sands development entails strip mining and dangerous energy and chemical inputs to melt and extract fuel. Greenhouse gas emissions stemming from oil shale and tar sands development far exceed that of conventional oil development. In March the Bureau of Land Management allocated more than 800,000 acres of federal public land in the Colorado River Basin to oil shale and tar sands development.

“Given all of Utah’s current pollution problems under the Clean Air Act, it makes no sense to further harm public health and exacerbate climate change,” said attorney Marc Fink with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Attorney Anne Mariah Tapp with Grand Canyon Trust represents the appellant groups and was lead author of their appeal; they include Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Center for Biological Diversity.

To download a copy of the groups’ appeal, click here.

To download a copy of Monday’s letter about Emery’s plans, click here.

To download maps of the refinery and state and federal leasable oil shale and tar sands land, click here (high or low resolution for use by media).

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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