Stopping Asphalt Ridge Tar Sands Mines from Polluting Local Waters

Rob Dubuc

“The companies that are attempting to produce oil from tar sands at Asphalt Ridge make ridiculous claims of being environmentally clean, while refusing to publicly disclose the chemicals they intend to use.” — Rob Dubuc, Staff Attorney.

Western Resource Advocates is representing Living Rivers and its members in a lawsuit to stop Asphalt Ridge tar sands mines from operating and contaminating local waters and destroying recreation and wildlife.

Asphalt Ridge is a Significant Recreation and Wildlife Area near Vernal, Utah

Several thousand acres of experimental tar sands mines are located only a few miles to the southwest of the city of Vernal, Utah. Companies such as MCW Energy and Temple Mountain Energy plan to use “proprietary” solvent technology to extract bitumen from the tar sands at Asphalt Ridge. They join the now-bankrupt Crown Asphalt Ridge Mine which folded when its efforts to process tar sands from this area proved unsuccessful. Asphalt Ridge is an area frequently used for stargazing, hiking, hunting, camping and sightseeing. The area has abundant plant life, wildlife and archeological sites and is renowned for its solitude.

Asphalt Ridge Mines are Developing Experimental-Scale Tar Sands Strip Mines

Asphalt Ridge, whose native asphalt has been used by Uinta County for road repairs for fifty years, has been the target of several experimental tar sands mines for the past decade. The now-bankrupt Crown Asphalt Ridge, a subsidiary of Korea Technology Industry America, proposed to process oil sands at the site using hot water to produce a dry froth or wet froth product to process the tar sands. This new process was unproven and had never been tried before. Ultimately, the technology proved ineffective, Crown Asphalt Ridge applied for bankruptcy protection in 2012, and its assets have since been sold in receivership. However, companies such as MCW Energy and Temple Mountain Energy continue to pursue experimental solvent technology to extract bitumen (a mature form of oil) from the tar sands in the hopes of sending up to 5,000 barrels of oil per day to market.

The Mines are Likely to Contaminate Ground and Surface Water Used by Residents, Agriculture and Wildlife

Mine tailings, especially untreated tailings containing residual tar sands and solvent, are notoriously full of toxins. Asphalt Ridge, which is within sight of the town of Vernal, has abundant ground water very close to the surface, and all of these mines intend to dispose of their waste in unlined pits. In some cases, as many as fifteen water wells are within one mile of the mine, and several of these water wells are currently used for drinking and/or irrigation water for homes and industry. These mining operations will produce a number of pollutants and there is a high likelihood this mining pollution will reach the ground and surface water used by nearby residents and agriculture – at levels of contamination thousands of times higher than water quality standards allow.

Western Resource Advocates is Legally Challenging the Mine Permit to Prevent Water Pollution

Western Resource Advocates legally challenged a ground water permit issued by the state of Utah to Crown Asphalt Ridge. We are committed to reviewing each step of the state permitting process to protect public health, wildlife, clean water, clean air and recreation in the area from tar sands mining.

Other Resources

Oil Shale and Tar Sands Factsheet 

Living Rivers is our partner on this campaign.

Project Staff

Rob Dubuc

Rob Dubuc

Staff Attorney, Utah Office

Joro Walker

General Counsel