First U.S. Tar Sands Mine Could Open in Utah

Tue Apr 12, 2011 2:04am EDT

An Alberta, Canada-based company wants to open the first tar sands mine in the US - in Utah.

The Associated Press reports that Earth Energy Resources, Inc., which has more than 7,800 acres of state land under lease, has qualified for a permit to mine on 62 acres.

Due to the energy intensity of refining petroleum from tar sands, the fuels produced have an emissions footprint that is roughly three times as high as gasoline produced from typical oil wells. In addition, the strip mining process destroys the landscape, requires tremendous amounts of water and leaves behind enormous lakes of waste.

The mining process has been underway for years in Alberta, Canada and alongside mountaintop removal mining, it is considered one of the most environmentally destructive practices on the planet. Canada Tar Sands is the largest source of oil for the US.

With crude prices rising above $100 a barrel, Earth Energy Resources decided to pursue tar sands in Utah, that historically have been used as a cheap replacement for asphalt.

Earth Energy says it uses a citrus-based solvent that will not harm the environment, but the permit is being appealed by environmental groups who don't want to see a precedent set for tar sands mining in the US.

"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.

Photo by Associated Press

Reprinted with permission from Sustainable Business