PR Springs tar sand protest to stop Utah from becoming like Alberta

Utah State Government shows its true colors on public lands-

A month ago 20 protesters made a camp near PR Springs, high (8000 feet) on the Tavaput Plateau in the Book Cliffs of Eastern Utah.

This is oil shale country
For almost a century developers have been trying to figure how to extract the low grade hydrocarbons from the rock making up the Book Cliffs and make it into a usable energy source.  Bad economics, negative energy production, lack of water, and opposition to the massive disruption of area have stopped past projects.  Wildlife, water, scenery, and pollution have been the onsite and nearsite concerns. We can now add the global impacts of inefficient production of low grade fossil fuels — lots of CO2 per unit of fuel.

Enter US Oil Sands (from Canada)
Now, however, U.S. Oil Sands (a Canadian Company) has obtained a lease to strip mine up to 32,000 acres, but they will start with a 218 acre area of “tar sands” near supposedly dry PR Springs (Google Earth search brings it up). The lease is from the State of Utah to strip Utah state lands. The management of these lands is being highlighted by the state to show they can do a much better job than the federal government, which has managed over 2/3 of the land in Utah since its statehood.  Utah is demanding the transfer of these U.S. public lands to the State.

A huge strip mine potential
The total potential of 50 square miles of stripping near PR Springs is a lot. It is a fifth as much as the multiple bitumen pits (pleasantly called “oil sands”) in Alberta (280 square miles). Critics call these Alberta pits plus their emissions and supporting infrastructure, the “most environmentally destructive project on the planet.”

Opponents lose in Utah Court on technicality
Opponents of the PR Springs project tried to stop it in court. The Utah Supreme Court just rejected their case as “untimely,” see Living Rivers v. US Oil Sands and Utah Division of Water Quality. Plaintiffs had missed the 30 day window for public commentsStory in the Salt Lake Tribune.

Will groundwater be harmed?
Living River’s case was over whether there is ground water on the strip site. US Oil Sands said “no,” but PR Springs (and other springs) nearby perhaps say the opposite. The Court did not decide on the facts, however.  Prior to the court decision the Utah water quality agency had  concluded the mine has such a minimal impact that only a minimal review was needed for “actual or potential effect on ground water quality.”

Lack of scrutiny of tar sands mining expansion
This lack of scrutiny has been a big concern to environmental policy makers generally because the stripping work underway is often used as a reason not to consider the impact of tar sands mine expansions and the side effects. In fact, this is the major argument against withholding the lease for the Keystone XL pipeline. Movement of the syncrude out of Alberta one way or another was a fait accompli according to Keystone’s proponents.

Book Cliffs wildlife and wilderness
Thirty years ago there was over a million acres of  roadless, undesignated wilderness in the Book Cliffs of Utah. Very large blocks of this rugged roadless land existed in adjacent Colorado too. Today looking on Google Earth, you see energy exploration and development roads all over the place. However, the development has just begun.

The Book Cliffs are famous for their large mule deer. Bear, elk,  pronghorn and cougar are abundant too.  Perhaps soon bison from Yellowstone will be released too in view of a recent decision for exporting “excess” bison from the Park.

Lack of Water
Utah is one of the driest states. Tar sands and/or oil shale development takes much water.  Because there is no excess water in Utah, this will not only release a great amount of greenhouse gas, all water used will be taken, perhaps purchased, from an existing use. The Colorado River’s waters are badly overallocated. Nevada, California, Arizona, and Mexico will incur water loss and water quality deterioration from a Utah tar sands industry. This kind of incremental decision making will probably result in (or add to) some very unpleasant political conflicts in the future because of water scarcity.

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More news in the Moab (Utah) Times: State Supreme Court strikes down last challenge against tar sands project. By Rudy Herndo.



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  1. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    I guess I should have added that the BLM says the protesters have been friendly — no threats, guns, or cries of revolution.

    I guess that means local or federal law enforcement will leave them alone like they did at Bundy’s?

    1. Amre Avatar

      I have a feeling that they probably won’t. Total double standard.

  2. Kathleen Avatar

    A climate activist’s report from the PR Spring site — includes photos

  3. Ida Lupines Avatar
    Ida Lupines

    The Colorado River’s waters are badly overallocated.

    Have been for decades. Isn’t the word drought understood by these people? Can’t the Federal Government step in?

    I wish more people would realize just how environmentally dangerous this is, and how much precious water is going to be wasted. How can we continue to tear up our beautiful landscapes just to burn it up? Oil and gas are inherently bad for the environment; there is no such thing as good stewardship.

    1. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      If the Administration is truly wanting to combat climate change, how can they let these things continue? All it is doing is making partisan speeches about ‘climate deniers’ (the opposing party), with no real plans in place, and all the while working to be net exporters of oil. Climate change is a problem the world faces.

      “It’s not going to happen overnight”. We’ve stalled for decades; it’s the longest night I’ve ever heard of.

  4. Ralph Maughan Avatar
    Ralph Maughan

    Ida Lupines,

    I would not blame the Administration for this one.
    This is a state of Utah, Republican (if any party), Canadian mining company thing.
    Republicans are talking about Obama’s recent climate change air pollution rules as one of the charges in the impeachment bill of particulars they are dreaming up.

  5. BC Avatar

    I’m not in the religion of global warming, especially after the earth has been cooling for 17 years and antarctic ice is at all time highs. That’s not the issue to me – the real issue is this beautiful Book Cliffs land that will be destroyed. Anyone that has spent time there will be brought to tears by this destruction. Haven’t we learned that almost all wildlands are gone? There is plenty of fuel to go around without destroying the Book Cliffs. I have such a passion for Utah lands, I only with the other citizens did too. Sad.

    1. Immer Treue Avatar
      Immer Treue

      “I’m not in the religion of global warming, especially after the earth has been cooling for 17 years and antarctic ice is at all time highs. That’s not the issue to me –”


    2. Jake Jenson Avatar
      Jake Jenson

      Maybe it should be called Global Menopause since its hot and cold flashes combined with drought?

      1. Jake Jenson Avatar
        Jake Jenson

        And flooding depending on where one is. I wish it would flood here because I’m sick of smoky summers.

    3. Ralph Maughan Avatar
      Ralph Maughan


      I disagree with your view on climate change, but I understand how you feel about places like the Book Cliffs.

      I grew up mostly in Utah, and the lack of concern, lack of feeling for the land by Utah political and other leaders dismayed me and led in part to changing some of my most basic views.

    4. Nancie McCormish Avatar
      Nancie McCormish

      Have to add there used to be a wild horse herd in the book cliffs, which were administratively divided into two smaller herds, then was was completely zero’d out. The remaining herd is well below genetic viability due to this professional “management.” I don’t see the conflict others insist is there between wild horses and energy extraction, but the numbers keep pointing to the intentional extermination of a supposedly protected species.

  6. Nancy Avatar

    With 92 million head of cattle in the US, pooping 70 lbs. a day, the possibilities are endless 🙂

  7. Gary Humbard Avatar
    Gary Humbard

    Whether energy development is going to occur here or somewhere else, the fact is we as individuals have the ability to collectively reduce our “foot stamp” on the environment. Personally, I live a simplified life using the minimal amount of energy as possible, do not buy products made from livestock and support conservation organizations that are working to protect wildlife and its habitat.

    Its easy to blame and villianize governments and energy companies but they are supporting or supplying a product to meet a demand. Each of us has the responsibility to reduce our demand for energy, and by doing so, reduce the negative impacts on the environment. I know that is wishful thinking but its gives me peace of mind knowing that I did my part.

    1. Jerry Black Avatar
      Jerry Black

      Gary……I also live quite “simply”…no livestock products etc and am very careful to support only the organizations that have the same values as myself. I find that when you actually look into the funding of many of these groups, they receive a large amount of funding from the fossil fuel industry.
      I’m moving to Washington State from Montana next month and since my son is in the solar business, I’ll finally get my wish for solar power. Montana will remain stuck on fossil fuel energy as long as the political atmosphere remains the same.

    2. Jerry Black Avatar
      Jerry Black

      Why Aren’t Environmental Groups Divesting From Fossil Fuels?

    3. Nancy Avatar

      “Each of us has the responsibility to reduce our demand for energy, and by doing so, reduce the negative impacts on the environment”

      Big thumbs up, + 1, on that comment Gary 🙂

      And some interesting thoughts on this day so celebrated in our country 🙂

    4. Ida Lupines Avatar
      Ida Lupines

      Yes, I keep mine as low as possible. Some may find that ‘hypocritical’ that we all uses some fossil fuels – but there is a big difference between trying hard to reduce consumption, and not caring at all. The ‘trade-offs’ that Sally Jewell mentions should not include our wildlands such as the area in this post and wildlife. People should give up some of their creature comforts. It doesn’t mean because you turn down your thermostat or use less gas that we are headed back to the Bronze Age as I’ve read in some griping comments. However, climate change may send us back there.

      It’s not all or nothing. If people really did care about our beautiful wild lands, they would demand that they not be destroyed for energy.

      Sally Jewell: President Obama’s Pro-Fracking Climate Czar

  8. Kathleen Avatar

    This is a few days old, perhaps it’s already been posted, but it’s relevant here…

    Excerpt: “A new report published in the journal Climatic Change compared greenhouse gas emissions attributable to more than 55,000 meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the U.K. The researchers found that meat-eaters’ dietary greenhouse gas emissions were twice as high as vegans’.”

    Also, from “Shrink that footprint,” the carbon footprint of 5 diets compared:

    1. Amre Avatar

      As we all knew…..

  9. Steve Avatar

    The most destructive part of the oil and gas industry is the exploration/road-building phase and its subsequent impact on the destruction of our wilderness lands. Here in Alberta I have witnessed first-hand how small,remote and unintrusive trails have been transformed into thousands of miles of rural, gravelled expressways that has brought continuous traffic into formerly serene regions. The beauty of these areas should be preserved for their intrinsic value alone but it looks like we are hell-bent on building roads into every corner of our over-populated world. It is truly heart-breaking to witness this destruction of wildlife habitat over the past thirty years. Unlike “climate-change”, we do have control over excessive development of wilderness. Climate change has happened since the beginning of time and it will continue to happen with or without us so let’s focus on things we can control like human population and unsatiable greed.

    1. BC Avatar

      Steve – one of the best posts I’ve read on this site. Agree 100%. How do we make it happen though?

      1. Steve Avatar

        Thanks BC, I wish I could get paid to write! As for coming up with any real solutions to address the over-population problem I find it very difficult to think of anything effective that could be implemented legally….or not..(mass sterilization, limiting families to 2 kids?)
        The pressures of too many people has had noticeable impact on the production capabilities of agriculture, industry and every other human activity. With our global population now over 7 billion, the earth may soon reach its capacity to not only feed its inhabitants but to also provide them with an environment in which they can thrive and live in peace.
        In regards to the problem of insatiable greed, this is a trait of human-nature and all the laws in the world will have no effect to deter such evil. I guess the best way to combat this is to ensure that no single individual (or corporation) can control most of the world’s industry or other entity (ie. Mass-media, Rupert Murdoch),either through shareholder agreements or otherwise.
        Part of the battle we are fighting is that we are up against the massive reach and frequency of insidious misinformation and propaganda that bombards us 24/7. This has spawned ignorance and apathy which has now become indicative characteristics of a society that is too far-removed from nature and reality to understand what is actually happening. Proper education with its major component being first-hand observations/verification followed by actual research and historical studies free from the propaganda and fact-omitting excrement thrown at our students by warped, fat, pony-tailed professors should be something we need to strive for. For the time-being, and to avoid the wrath of your Smart-car-driving neighbors my only suggestion is to buy a case of whiskey and retire to the sanctity of your home, turn off your $20 dollar mercury-laced lightbulbs and try sit in peace and ponder the future.

  10. Kathleen Avatar

    “Activists say arrests made in protest at Utah tar sands mine project”

    Excerpt: “I understand people don’t agree with us,” said Todd, adding his company also planned extensive mitigation and reclamation work. “We are determined to make this the most environmentally sound oil sands project anywhere.”

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