Good news for our climate, water, wildlife and some Utah communities. US Oil Sands had planned to launch the first tar sands operation in the U.S., a strip mining operation that would span 32,005 acres in the Uinta Basin. However, US Oil Sands announced in November that they will not begin as planned while the company seeks additional financing.

Tar sands is one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet. Oil shale and tar sands development creates significant emissions of greenhouse gases compared to other traditional fossil fuel sources. The development and use of these fuels would have a carbon footprint 100-300% greater than that of conventional fossil fuels.

The US Oil Sands operation, called the PR Spring mine, is slated to be the first commercial-scale tar sands mine in the U.S., with a planned production rate of 2,000 barrels of oil per day. Since it takes over 4,000 pounds of ore to produce one barrel of oil, that means that the plant will generate over 8.6 million pounds of waste daily. Unfortunately, while the company likes to brand this waste as environmentally benign, our experts have testified in court that it would be anything but.  In fact, the very process that the company plans to use to separate the tar from the sands will mobilize the petrochemicals remaining in the waste in a way that will contaminate local groundwater.  Since there is indisputable proof that the area where the mine is located serves as a recharge zone for area seeps and springs used by recreationists, ranchers and wildlife, this mine is likely to have a devastating impact on these precious water resources.

The PR Spring mine, however, still isn’t fully funded. On November 29, 2016, US Oil Sands announced that it was operating with a capital deficit of $2.1 million and that additional capital was required to fund construction and commissioning of the PR Spring plant. As it has in the past, the company paints a rosy picture regarding when they will actually start operations. For example, in November 2014, the company predicted commercial production would begin in 2015, and in November 2015 it predicted commercial startup to occur in early 2016. Now, US Oil Sands says it will defer startup until it raises $7.5 million in financing as it lays off most staff.  They claim they will complete the financing by January 6, 2017 with commercial production starting once the financing is complete. But we’ll believe it when we see it.

Every indication is that the new Trump Administration will be more friendly to the oil and gas industry than the last administration. But some things, like the willingness of investors to spend money on risky propositions like oil shale and tar sands mines, are beyond politics. Project after project has fallen by the wayside in recent years as investors back away from prior commitments to fund the development of these unconventional fuels. With oil shale, the saying is that it’s a fuel of the future and always will be.  Let’s hope that that the same can be said of tar sands in Utah. Western Resource Advocates will continue to legally challenge when possible the development of this devastating type of fossil fuel production in the West.

Image above: A tar sands strip mine in Alberta, Canada; Credit: Dru Oja Jay, Dominion via Flickr

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