Think Nuclear or Coal Is Bad? Tar Sands Mining Is Coming to Utah Think Nuclear or Coal Is Bad? Tar Sands Mining Is Coming to Utah
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Think Nuclear or Coal Is Bad? Tar Sands Mining Is Coming to Utah

by Ben Jervey

April 14, 2011

You may think of coal mining as a pretty dirty way of digging up energy, but in reality, it isn't even the worst. Tar sands mining is, far and away, the dirtiest, most toxic, and most climate corrupting means of energy production in the world. It's been going on in Alberta, Canada for a couple of decades now, turning the once-lush Athabasca boreal forests into a toxic industrial wasteland, polluting local rivers, ruining local air, and sending a thick plume of greenhouse gases up into the atmosphere.

Now, a devastating line is about to be crossed. Until now, tar sands within the U.S. borders has stayed underground, where it belongs. No more. It looks like tar sands extraction is coming to the states, and barely anyone is noticing.

A Canadian company has cleared all regulatory and legal hurdles to start mining Utah's Uinta Basin for this sticky, stinky, tar-like lowest-grade form of petroleum. And though this first mine will "only" spread out across 62 acres, the AP report makes clear that this is only the beginning.

The company has over 7,800 acres of Utah state land under lease, with plans to acquire more, and estimates its current holdings contain more than 250 million barrels of recoverable oil.

Again, from extraction to processing to shipping to combustion, tar sands are far and away the dirtiest form of all fuels—locally, regionally, and globally. It is, quite literally, wringing the trace bits of oil out of sand and soil. And what does it do to the landscape and local ecosystems? Take a look at the photo up on top of this post.  There's more evidence in this old OnEarth article and this more recent Grist piece about the tar sands boom in the Northern Alberta region.

Tim DeChristopher, the student who threw that federal land auction into chaos a couple years ago his colleagues at Peaceful Uprising have pledged to stop this mine. Follow their work, and we'll keep you posted for any specific things you can do to help stop the squeezing of tar sands from our country's lands.

Top photo from Oil Change International. Bottom photo from Peaceful Uprising.

Ben Jervey More Info

Ben is a writer and editor covering climate change, energy, and environment, and is currently the Climate and Energy Media Fellow at Vermont Law School. He was the original Environment Editor at GOOD Magazine and his work has appeared regularly in National Geographic News, Grist, DeSmogBlog, and OnEarth. He recently worked with the non-profit Focus the Nation to publish an Energy 101 primer. When living in New York City, he wrote a book, The Big Green Apple, on how to live a lower impact life in the city. A bicycle enthusiast, Ben has ridden across the United States and through much of Europe.
Some recent articles by Ben Jervey:
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Think Nuclear or Coal Is Bad? Tar Sands Mining Is Coming to Utah