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Utah Travel Headlines

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Debate Pits Tar Sand Development Vs Wilderness In Utah

With oil prices surging, there is a huge cry to develop more domestic energy programs. One would extract oil from "tar sands" in eastern Utah's dinosaur country. But some fear the project will destroy the environment, which is home to mule deer, elk and many other kinds of wildlife.

Alberta-based Earth Energy Resources Inc is moving ahead to develop a 62-acre project in that area, and has leases on 7,800 acres. It estimates about 250 million barrels of oil can be recovered.

In the end, the fate of this and similar projects will come down to public sentiment. Do we place the highest value on preserving the recreational and environmental qualities of the land, or do we value the energy potential? Periodic public hearings give interested parties a chance to express their views. We encourage people to attend and participate.

This AP article gives a good overview of the debate. Below are excerpts.

The Bureau of Land Management says Utah has an estimated 12 to 19 billion barrels of oil buried in its tar sands, mostly in the eastern part of the state, though not all of that would be accessible.

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. A hearing is set for May 25.

While tar sands projects are relatively new in the U.S., Canada has been a major producer for years, and in doing so, has become the No. 1 foreign supplier of oil to America. Alberta's sprawling oil sands deposits are the second largest oil reserves in the world outside of Saudi Arabia. The region produces about 1.2 million barrels of oil a day with an estimated 174 billion barrels in reserve.

Environmentalists in the U.S. say they don't want to see a Canadian-style oil sands industry crop up here, and are concerned that water pollution generated in the process could poison underground aquifers and wildlife in the region.

Earth Energy says it will deploy a "revolutionary" new extraction process in Utah using a citrus-based solvent that "leaves behind no toxic chemicals" or the need for retention ponds, ensuring it doesn't harm wildlife or other natural resources.

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