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September 30, 2010

Mining for oil

Salt Lake Tribune Editorial

The strip mining of tar sands deposits for oil in Utah’s Book Cliffs will disturb the earth, degrade the environment and disrupt wildlife. It’s an energy- and water-intensive way of producing petroleum that could jeopardize water quality and supplies. Plus, the process yields an old-school fossil fuel that produces climate-changing greenhouse gases in abundance. Simply put, tapping tar sands won’t yield clean, renewable fuels; instead, it will compound our energy problems.

But common sense hasn’t stopped Earth Energy Resources from attempting a demonstration project that could result in a flurry of destructive tar-sands mining on the environmentally sensitive Colorado Plateau. And it didn’t stop the Utah School Institutional Trust Lands Administration from leasing the initial 62-acre site, plus nearly 6,000 additional acres in eastern Utah, to the Canadian company. And it didn’t keep the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, which must assure that the mining plan complies with environmental and land-reclamation laws, from issuing a permit to proceed.

Moab-based Living Rivers, an environmental advocacy group, is protesting the mining permit. The Division’s board will hear the appeal, a process that can take six months to a year to complete, and a fine-tooth-comb approach is in order.

Living Rivers officials argue that the project will contribute to climate change, and negatively impact water quality and supplies in the Colorado River basin. Due to the lack of storm-water drainage impoundments, the environmental group claims residual petroleum and chemicals from the mine could wash into Willow Creek.

Earth Energy counters that its patented citrus-based solvent is nontoxic, although independent verification by the public is not possible. The company, despite patent protections, considers its solvent to be proprietary, and only state regulators have access to the data.

Plus, the firm counters that it will require just 1.5 barrels of water to produce a barrel of oil. Still, that’s a lot of water in the second-driest state, especially if the industry gets its toe in the door and tar-sands mining becomes commonplace.

Even if Earth Energy survives the appeal, the project is not a done deal. The company must also obtain approval from Grand County to proceed, and the county should carefully consider the impact of tar-sands mining on Grand’s lucrative tourism and recreation industries.

Also, Earth Energy needs $35 million to launch the mine, and investors are rightfully skittish. That could be the biggest obstacle to the project, and the Book Cliffs’ saving grace, since government seems reluctant to stand in the way despite the threat to the environment and the economy.

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Last Update: October 30, 2007

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Living Rivers    PO Box 466     Moab, UT 84532     435.259.1063