1st US tar sands mine set to open in Utah

Doug Thornton with U.S. Oil Sands, holds sticky, black, tar-soaked sand during a tour of the U.S. Oil Sands commercial tar sands operation in the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah. U.S. Oil Sands has invested nearly $100 million over the last decade to acquire rights to about 50 square miles, obtain permits and develop what it says is a new, nontoxic method of extracting the petroleum from the sand with the use of an orange peel extract similar to what’s in household soaps and detergents, Book Cliffs, Utah, July 13, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

BOOK CLIFFS (AP) — On a remote Utah ridge covered in sagebrush, pines and wild grasses, a Canadian company is about to embark on something never before done commercially in the United States: digging sticky, black, tar-soaked sand from the ground and extracting the petroleum.

The impending opening of the nation’s first tar sands mine has become another front in the battle across the West between preservationists and the energy industry.

 Doug Thornton with U.S. Oil Sands, stands during a tour of the U.S. Oil Sands commercial tar sands operation, in the Book Cliffs, in eastern Utah. U.S. Oil Sands has invested nearly $100 million over the last decade to acquire rights to about 50 square miles, obtain permits and develop what it says is a new, non-toxic method of extracting the petroleum from the sand with the use of an orange-peel extract similar to what’s in household soaps and detergents, Black Cliffs, Utah, July 13, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News TS3
Doug Thornton, with U.S. Oil Sands, stands during a tour of the U.S. Oil Sands commercial tar sands operation, in the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah. U.S. Oil Sands has invested nearly $100 million over the last decade to acquire rights to about 50 square miles, obtain permits and develop what it says is a new, nontoxic method of extracting the petroleum from the sand with the use of an orange peel extract similar to what’s in household soaps and detergents, Book Cliffs, Utah, July 13, 2015 | AP photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

U.S. Oil Sands has invested nearly $100 million over the last decade to acquire rights to about 50 square miles, obtain permits and develop what it says is a brand-new, nontoxic method of separating out the oil with the use of an orange peel extract similar to what’s in citrus-scented household soaps and detergents.

“We’re dedicated to having the world’s most environmentally responsible oil sands project ever built,” CEO Cameron Todd said in a boast that has failed to reassure protesters.

Across the rolling green hills of the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah, about 165 miles from Salt Lake City, the company plans this fall to begin digging the first in a series of pits, each the size of a football stadium, and start unsticking oil from the sand that crumbles in your hand like a brownie.

Tar sands, also called bitumen, are naturally occurring deposits of petroleum. Unlike with oil that flows out of wells, the hydrocarbons in tar sands must first be separated from the dirt by mixing the stuff with hot water and solvent. The oil is then sold to refineries for eventual use as fuel or an industrial ingredient.

Oil production from tar sands has been going on for years in Canada and Venezuela. The Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline that has been blocked by the Obama administration is supposed to carry tar sands oil.

While tar sands mining involves higher operating costs than traditional drilling, it can be highly profitable, especially when crude prices are high. But whether U.S. Oil Sands can make any money on this project remains to be seen.

What looked like a shortage of oil when the company began raising money has now become a glut, in part because energy companies have learned to extract petroleum from formations long thought out of reach.

By the company’s own estimate, it will make little to nothing at crude oil’s current price of $48 per barrel, down from a peak of $147 in 2008. As of Tuesday, U.S. Oil Sands stock was trading at just 12 cents.

Protesters gather outside the U.S. Oil Sands commercial tar sands operation, in the Book Cliffs, in eastern Utah. On a remote Utah ridge covered in sagebrush, pines and wild grasses, a Canadian company is about to embark on something never before done commercially in the United States: digging sticky, black, tar-soaked sand from the ground and extracting the petroleum, Black Cliffs, Utah, July 13, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
Protesters gather outside the U.S. Oil Sands commercial tar sands operation in Book Cliffs in eastern Utah. On a remote Utah ridge covered in sagebrush, pines and wild grasses, a Canadian company is about to embark on something never before done commercially in the United States: digging sticky, black, tar-soaked sand from the ground and extracting the petroleum, Book Cliffs, Utah, July 13, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Protesters have tried to thwart the mine’s construction for two summers in a row and have gotten arrested for chaining themselves to equipment. They argue that the project is an eyesore and that it could contaminate nearby springs and ruin habitat for deer, beaver and bears.

The mine sits on a cleared swath of land enclosed by barbed wire, with modular buildings, bulldozers, large metal posts and rails and a massive metal cylinder with a cone-shaped bottom where the tar sand mixing will be done.

Demonstrators who have been camping out all summer near the site gathered outside the front gate on a recent day to show their opposition. Some wore chipmunk masks. Other banged drums. Some held signs with messages such as “Dirty Energy Kills.”

“It’s heartbreaking to see what they’ve been doing out here,” said Melanie Martin of the Tar Sands Resistance Movement. “It’s impossible to reclaim and rehabilitate the land once they do what they are planning to do with it. The land is not going to come back for millennia.”

Opponents also worry the mine will spur more projects in this pristine area that attracts hikers, campers and hunters. A 45-mile, $86 million highway as smooth as an autobahn has been built out to the mine. And the state has given approval for three other tar sands operations in the same corner of Utah.

Instead of relying on the usual industrial-strength hydrocarbon solvent, U.S. Oil Sands says it will employ the biodegradable citrus extract that is in grease-cutting household products.

Utah officials who recently approved the mine also imposed a key requirement environmentalists considered a victory: The company must monitor water and air quality.

Melanie Martin, of the Tar Sands Resistance Movement, looks over the Book Cliffs, in eastern Utah. The impending opening of the nation’s first tar sands mine has become another front in the battle across the West between preservationists and the energy industry, Black Cliffs, Utah, July 13, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News
Melanie Martin, of the Tar Sands Resistance Movement, looks over the Book Cliffs in eastern Utah. The impending opening of the nation’’s first tar sands mine has become another front in the battle across the West between preservationists and the energy industry, Book Cliffs, Utah, July 13, 2015 | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

And instead of leaving open pits, ponds of mining debris and barren land, U.S. Oil Sands says it will fill in the holes with the clean leftover sand and plant grass and other vegetation.

U.S. Oil Sands estimates there are 180 million barrels of oil close to the surface on the land it is leasing. It plans to begin turning out 2,000 barrels per day later this year — a puny share of the 9.3 million the U.S. produces daily — and take it by truck to refineries. It says the mine will create about 50 full-time jobs when opened.

“This is a breakthrough in technology,” Todd said by telephone from Calgary. “If we’re able to demonstrate to the investment world that this is possible, there are many, many places where this could be done.”

Alex Beeker, an industry research analyst, said he doesn’t expect the mine to set off an explosion of tar sands mining in the U.S., where the prospects are basically limited to Utah. “But if U.S. Oil Sands starts to do very well, you’re going to see more operators try to mimic what they’re doing,” he said.

Story by BRADY McCOMBS. Associated Press Energy Writer Jonathan Fahey contributed to this report from New York.

Related posts

Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

 

 

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

10 Comments

  • SSTEED August 21, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    This is why the federal government shouldn’t release property to the state. We obviously cannot be trusted. Now we need the Monkey Wrench Gang 2.0 to make this project very expensive so they cant make any money off it. Its bad enough we have to deal with the embarrassment of hosting the NSA in the biggest breach of privacy in history, now this? Shame on the people in the government who let this happen. It would serve them right to get some of that tar (plus some feathers) and let them have a bath in that crap. Its one of the dirtiest, most destructive energy sources we have; but we cant let that get in the way of progress. You know: all the progress we’ve made on destroying our home. We have reduced the animal population by half in the last fifty years; lets finish this.

    • fun bag August 23, 2015 at 12:16 am

      mormons don’t care about trashing the environment cuz they get to float on up to the celestial planets when all is said and done, and everything is find and dandy up there on Kolob. They truly don’t care…

      • Dexter August 23, 2015 at 6:31 pm

        The church will get their share and that’s why it’s being allowed

  • knobe August 22, 2015 at 9:24 am

    Most other states already know the nasty consequences of tar sand mining and have refused to allow it .
    WHY does Utah have such low low standards ?
    Why are officials so UNinformed about public health issues ?

    Is Utah trying to beat out Arkansas , Mississippi & West Virginia for dumbest places ever ?

  • fun bag August 22, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    orange peel extract? pfffffffffffffffffffff, i bet that lasts 1 day if that before they start using petrol solvents and other toxic mishmash. It all gonna be about making $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ and leaving a big mess for public dollars to clean up…

  • sagemoon August 23, 2015 at 11:51 am

    Stupid, stupid, stupid Utah. smh

    • Dexter August 23, 2015 at 6:32 pm

      No that is stupid stupid stupid Mormon politicians

  • KarenS August 23, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Do you want to know why a Canadian company is in Utah extracting tar sands? Have you seen what the remains of tar sand extraction looks like in Canada? Miles and miles and miles of land that can never be rehabilitated no matter what they say. The Canadians are sick of it so they are looking for new places outside Canada.

    Let’s stop blaming Mormons (I’m one, by the way) for allowing tar sands mining here. The politicians (who do happen to be mostly Mormon) are businessmen first and foremost. Until we elect people who care about what we are leaving to our grandchildren, they will always kowtow to business. So, stop complaining and find candidates who support your views. Do something!

    • fun bag August 24, 2015 at 10:12 am

      “Until we elect people who care about what we are leaving to our grandchildren, they will always kowtow to business”

      So they should vote for someone other than mormon republicans. Mormons are taught from a very young age to blindly trust the men in the black business suits, and this can be a real problem. You should have this discussion with your fellow mormons about voting for people other than the same old ones (mormon republicans)… they truly don’t care. If you ask your fellow mormons about this I’m sure they say something like “IT’S OBAMA’S FAULT”… oh well

      • ladybugavenger August 24, 2015 at 11:03 am

        #obamadontcare……..Trump for Prescient! So then he can be renamed “Chump” by the demoncrats.:)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.