The image above is from Northern Alberta, site of the most extensive tar sands operations.  Some are wondering if this is what a 213-acre section in eastern Utah will look like a few years from now?

If you haven’t had the displeasure of seeing tar sands operations up close, they may be coming to a state near you. In September Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas & Mining gave final approval for the first large-scale tar sands mine in the United States. The permit was given to Canadian-based Earth Energy Resources.

Tar sands contain a thick, sticky form of crude oil called bitumen and accounts for about half of Canada’s oil production. In their Canadian incarnation in Alberta, tar sands operations have a reputation as being among the most damaging on the planet today. It has been called ‘the most destructive project on earth’ by Environmental Defence. Not only do the operations create three times the emissions as conventional oil, they leave behind toxic ponds, and require enormous amounts of energy and water, because bitumen doesn’t flow like lighter forms of crude. It is devastating local communities, in particular First Nations, who are being displaced and whose livelihoods are being destroyed. Those who live downstream from the toxic tailing ponds have high rates of rare cancers and other diseases.

Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network describes the Athabascan tar sands region as a “landscape resembling a war zone marked with 200-foot-deep pits and thousands of acres of destroyed boreal forests.”

In addition, the operations are disrupting migrating birds and other species that depend on the Boreal forest ecosystem.  To date, the extraction of tar sands in Canada has already devastated an area the size of Florida.

The Canadian tar sands also happen to be the single largest source of crude oil imports to the United States. Utah has about 93% of all tar sands deposits in the United States and already processes about 5 million barrels of crude from Canadian tar sands a year in four refineries. The PR Springs operation in eastern Utah is estimated by Earth Energy Resources to be able to produce 2,000 barrels of crude bitumen per day, 350 days per year for 7 years, if the entire deposits are mined.

If Earth Energy Resources finds the $35 million in funding to go forward with the mining, one thing is certain–local and national resistance will be there to greet them. Even before September’s green light, local residents, organizations, and newspaper editorials have been voicing their opposition to the prospect of tar sands operations in their backyard.

One such organization is Peaceful Uprising, that points out the enormous amounts of water resources required to mine the bitumen and the threat of contamination to local water supplies. The heavy use of water is of particular importance to Utah and other Western regions where decreasing fresh water supplies is already an concern.

For more and to take action:

Peaceful Uprising

Western Resource Advocates

Fossil Fools Gold

Dirty Oil Sands