Hmm, this doesn’t make sense. A tar sands mine is allegedly slated for the Book Cliffs north of Arches National Park in Utah, but so far no one has said anything about water rights. Tar sand mining is notoriously water intensive and Utah is notoriously short on water supplies. Even if that area had enough water, I don’t see how this Alberta based company is going to buy all of the water rights it needs to do the project. Most people aren’t selling and beyond that, there isn’t water available. I don’t see this project happening, purely from a water rights perspective, unless the Canadians know something I don’t.
Water problems aside, Utah may not be suitable for tar sands extraction for other reasons. Utah’s tar sands are generally half as rich as Canada’s and require more processing to extract the oil. “In the most productive Alberta sites, it takes two tons of tar sands to produce one barrel of oil,” a Western Resource Advocates report says. “Utah’s tar sands are generally inferior to Alberta’s deposits in both quality and composition. In other words, every time you put 20 gallons of gas made from tar sands in your car, you will have displaced at least 4,000 pounds of earth.” The biggest issue with extracting tar sands from Utah is that they are found under some of the most spectacularly scenic wilderness areas in the state such as the San Rafael Swell, the Circle Cliffs on the edge of Capitol Reef National Park, the Tar Sands Triangle near the Maze District of Canyonlands National Park and White Canyon near Natural Bridges National Monument. The Canadian company that wants to extract is looking at a lesser known area, The Book Cliffs, but I’ve been there and it’s still a beautiful area and great habitat for elk, moose, deer and other species.
Tar sand extraction is rife with controversy. It creates more greenhouse gases than traditional oil extraction because it’s an energy intensive process that relies on removing trees. In Canada, at issue is the removal of the Boreal Forest, a large carbon sink. Some argue that it uses more energy to extract the oil, than we actually receive in oil. Others argue that without government subsidies, tar sand extraction wouldn’t be profitable. I’m no tar sands expert, so you can read more at No Dirty Energy, at Newwest.Net, or a peruse a very technical view on The Oil Drum.
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We’ll do a Tar Sand show on This Green Earth and keep you posted on the latest.
Photo courtesy of OnEarth.