Friday, 29 April 2011

Canadian Carpetbaggers!

Of the many issues facing Utahns, and of the many controversies percolating regarding the apparent conflict between the development of "nontraditional energy resources" and even the most basic attention to environmental quality, perhaps no recent development is more disturbing than the plan to open portions of Utah's wilderness to tar sand extraction. To their credit, the Salt Lake Tribune has provided some decent coverage of the ongoing public hearings on this subject. Also, local environmental daredevils Peaceful Uprising* are on this issue with a vengeance (hellraiser extraordinaire Ashley Anderson, who has written about this issue, is a guy worth following on Twitter - if you're into that kind of thing, follow him for some quality tweets - as a matter of fact, go ahead and follow Peaceful Uprising while you're at it). From PeaceUp's website:

The UK’s Guardian called tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada the most destructive project on Earth. The United States has been spared this scourge–but that could soon change. Canadian companies have their sights set on areas just north of Utah’s pristine canyon country, where the majority of the tar sands deposits in the United States are safely stored beneath breathtaking, otherworldly natural landscape.

Tar sand extraction is bad, bad news, folks: not just because it involves the tearing up of pristine wilderness, but because of the water burden associated with the extraction process. The rough estimate I've heard from many quarters is that for every barrel of oil extracted from tar sands, two barrels of water are rendered completely spoiled, fouled, and unrecoverable. The fact that this has been taking place in Alberta (or, as I like to call it, "Canada's Alabama") is bad enough: the fact that Earth Energy Resources, an Albertan company, wants to mosey on down to Utah and do the same here is unacceptable.

This plan by carpetbagging Canadians might have something resembling a silver lining, however: it has created a natural alliance (no pun intended) between sportsmen and environmentalists. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

"This is not just a 62-acre project that will last seven years. We are looking at a 30,000-acre project that will destroy the environment in this area over many years," said John Weisheit, a Colorado River guide and founder of the Moab, Utah-based environmental group Living Rivers...Living Rivers is challenging this project's approval and contends it would dig up fragile topsoil, destroy limestone plateaus formed over thousands of years and pollute groundwater downstream that flows into the Colorado River. The group claims the Utah Division of Water Quality didn't accurately assess the potential for widespread environmental damage from the PR Springs mine.

And as if the water burden on an already water-poor region wasn't bad enough:

[Canada's] oil sands operations, including extraction and processing, are responsible for up to 4 percent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, and that's expected to triple to 12 percent by 2020.

Other potential drawbacks were summarized nicely by Forbes (of all goddamned places):

[The current] plan would open about 2 million acres of Western public lands to oil shale research and development. The potential impacts include water pollution, huge power needs and boom-bust economic risks.

The remaining public hearings are scheduled as follows:

May 3 - Rifle, CO
May 4 - Denver, CO
May 5 - Cheyenne, WY

* - Full disclosure: my sister, Flora, is co-director of Peaceful Uprising.

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