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Utah Approves First Tar Sands Mine in US

by Juliana Williams

Yesterday, the Utah Governor’s Energy Initiative Task Force will hold a public hearing to gather input on Utah’s 10-year energy plan. This hearing comes one day after the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM) gave final approval for a tar sands mine in Eastern Utah, the first tar sands mine in the country.

“Approving tar sands one day, then asking for public input on the state’s energy future the next is either dishonest or dysfunctional,” said Ashley Anderson, coordinator for Peaceful Uprising, a US climate action organization based in Utah.

The PR Springs mine, to be operated by Canadian-based Earth Energy Resources, would occupy 213 acres in Grand and Uintah Counties in Eastern Utah. The site is within the Colorado River watershed, which supports 30 million people across the region. Earth Energy Resources expects to produce 2,000 barrels of crude bitumen per day, 350 days per year for 7 years.

“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 7 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.”

Tar sands, also called oil sands or heavy oil, produce one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. On average, each barrel of tar sands oil generates three times the greenhouse gases as conventional fuel, consumes or contaminates two to four barrels of water, and exposes ground water to toxic pollutants such as arsenic, lead, mercury, nickel and cyanide. DOGM refused to consider the climate impacts of tar sands in the permitting process. Extraction of tar sands in Canada has already devastated an area the size of Florida.

Although DOGM issued tentative approval of the mine in September 2009, they failed to notify Grand County until March 2010. In response, Peaceful Uprising and Living Rivers requested a hearing with DOGM held in July to review the environmental impacts of the mine.

“No one in the government is asking whether or not tar sands development is good for Utah,” said Anderson. “Instead, DOGM is simply rubber-stamping the project while the State pretends to care about renewable energy development at these hearings.”

Despite approval from DOGM, Earth Energy Resources must still apply for one final permit from Grand County and raise up to $35 million dollars from investors before it can begin construction of the mine.  This means we still have two small windows of opportunity to stop this mine, but it will definitely be an uphill struggle.

If you are from Utah, please send comments about the State’s 10-year energy vision to Ashlee Buchholze at abuchholz@utah.gov.

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