For the last eighteen months, Canada has increasingly come under the international environmental spot-light for its catastrophic exploitation of the dirty, polluting tar sands.
Grim images of Alberta being strip mined have been beamed around the world as Canada has become the dirty man of the Northern hemisphere. It is said that large parts of Alberta now resemble Mordor, from the infamous Lords of the Rings.
Well Mordor is now coming to Utah – as the state has just approved America’s first commercial tar sands project.
On Monday, John Baza, the director of Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas & Mining, upheld an earlier decision by his staff to give Canadian company Earth Energy Resources a permit to mine a 62-acre pit in eastern Utah.
Although it will be America’s first commercial mine it will be relatively small scale, producing 2,000 barrels of crude bitumen per day, 24 hours a day, 350 days per year for 7 years.
The site of the mine is within the Colorado River watershed, which supports 30 million people across the region. And local environmental activists argue that for that small amount of oil, the Colorado River watershed, which is already over-stretched, will be put at risk.
Processing the tar sands is incredibly energy and water intensive. Critics argue that it is madness to approve a thirsty and polluting industry in America’s second most arid state. They point out that there is already enormous competition for Utah’s limited water supply, and demand for the tar sands will make matters much worse.
“This project has no real value or contribution to society,” argues 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.”
Ashley Anderson, coordinator for Peaceful Uprising, a US climate action organization based in Utah adds: “No one in the government is asking whether or not tar sands development is good for Utah.”
But there are still a couple of hurdles the company has to jump before production can start. The company 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.
And Baza’s decision can be and should be appealed.
And a recent report on Utah’s tar sands says that people should learn the lesson from Canada:
“Canada’s tar sands experience offers Utah a stark cautionary tale. While Canada’s tar sands industry has produced significant quantities of oil, it has also created region-wide environmental damage”.
It continues: “Alberta is struggling to cope with groundwater contamination, toxic wastewater that harms human health and kills wildlife, the depletion of water resources even in a much wetter environment, and outsized strip-mining operations that have destroyed large tracts of forests. Tar sands production comes with an unacceptable carbon footprint and pollution output that Utah should not welcome.”