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Giant US Tar Sands Project Lurking in the Shadows

Imminent tar sands development threatens western US

- Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer

Alberta tar sands (Getty Images)While rightful attention has been focused on Alberta's tar sands development and its slated transport through the Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, along with Utah lawmakers, have quietly pushed forward plans for a similarly massive tar sands project back in the U.S., an exposé in Esquire highlights Thursday.

Much like Alberta's vast tar sands oil extraction that has devastated public and environmental health and the climate, the BLM's recent approval of mining projects will exploit more than 800,000 acres of public and private land for tar sands development across several western states.

The massive Green River Formation, a stretch of land that runs through Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, would be dug up and excavated, and Utah lawmakers "are eager to capitalize" on the imminent oil boom, according to the article.

As Esquire writes, "Already the state is literally paving the way for mining companies, including improving a highway that runs through one of last pieces of wilderness in the state at a cost of $85 million -- most of it public funds."

"With all eyes on Keystone, there's an equally or even bigger GHG problem brewing right here on American soil—and on Obama's watch," Taylor McKinnon of the Grand Canyon Trust told Esquire.

And Esquire adds:

These lands may hold more recoverable oil than has been used so far in human history -- 3 trillion barrels, according to a U.S. government report. They also contain two to seven times the oil -- and potential green house gas emissions -- as Alberta's tar sands and could set off a "carbon bomb" that would hasten climate change...

The Center for Biological Diversity reported this week that a minor victory was won against the tar sands project when Emery Refining was forced to redo permitting for a tar sands refinery in Utah —after its approved construction by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality was appealed by groups in July for violating the Utah Air Conservation Act.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has passed preliminary approvals for extraction projects, but a second public review period is expected within the next couple of months—meaning the battle is not over yet.

The BLM is also fighting a coalition of environmental organizations in court and faces a burgeoning anti-tar sands grassroots movement, with groups such as Utah Tar Sands Resistance who organize ongoing local protests against the plans.

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