Public comments are being taken by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on potential environmental impacts of leasing land near Vernal for tar sand drilling.
The 2,116-acre site is in eastern Utah’s Asphalt Ridge area, and is adjacent to more than 16,000 acres of state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration leases. An existing tar sands mine and processing plant is directly north on private land.
“It’s a normal environmental assessment (EA) taking comment on whether we’ve missed anything,” said Stephanie Howard of the Vernal BLM office.
Several plaintiffs filed a complaint in District Court of Colorado in 2009 to prevent the record of decision for the 2008 programmatic environmental impact statement for oil shale and tar sands from going into effect, according to a BLM news release.
A settlement agreement reached in 2011 exempts consideration of the expression of interest (EOI) for tar sands leasing in Asphalt Ridge as well as the possible sale or issuance of a lease for parcels identified in the EOI, according to the news release.
More information about the proposed project is in the EA now available for public review and comment at https://www.blm.gov/ut/enbb/index.php. Search for the project name “Tar Sands Leasing EA.” Comments will be taken until 4:30 p.m. on June 13.
Potential tar sands drilling in Grand County drew comments from proponents and opponents during the May 7 Grand County Council meeting. Several spoke during a portion of the agenda for citizen comments.
Deb Walter urged the council not to give any conditional use permits to companies wanting to do tar sands drilling. She said it would jeopardize the quality of water, soil, and air and would hurt the tourism industry.
“I am extremely concerned about U.S. Tar Sands,” said Joe Sorensen. “[Tar sands drilling] is the worse thing that could happen to our community, its water and air. Our health, our future security and the future generations are at risk.”
He referred to U.S. Oil Sands Inc., the Calgary, Alberta-based company that has received a green light from the state of Utah for the first tar sands production facility in the U.S. in the Book Cliffs north of Moab. Company representatives anticipate production to begin next year.
U.S. Oil Sands officials also have said they are considering tar sands projects in Grand County in future years, and have met with Grand County Council members to keep them apprised of plans.
“I strongly urge you to block special use permits” for tar sands drilling, Sarah Stock told the council.
She said tar sands mining would destroy the topsoil and use lots of water. As Stock concluded her comments, an audience member called out, “Go, tar sands.”
Kiley Miller also urged the council to prevent tar sand mining from happening in Grand County.
“Really do your homework before you allow this,” she said.
However, Harold Dalton took a different stance, telling council members Grand County needs industry such as mining rather than an economy based on tourism.
“I don’t like the way the town is turning out now,” Dalton said.
He added that land should be removed from federal control, saying the Grand County Council “could run Arches and Canyonlands national parks better than the federal government.”
Ray Tibbets agreed more federal land should be put in local hands. “Then we could drill on lands when we need to,” he said.
On Tuesday, May 14, a coalition of Utahns opposed to tar sands mining, including many from the Moab area, sent a photo-card to U.S. Oil Sands Inc., with the message, “US Oil Sands: We Will Stop You…Before it Starts.”
The message was timed to coincide with an annual meeting of U.S. Oil Sands investors and shareholders, said Moab resident Kate Finneran, who is the organizer of BeforeItStarts.org, a group committed to keeping Utah tar sands and oil shale free.
“We want current and potential investors of US Oil Sands to know they will meet resistance on the ground,” Finneran said in a news release from the group. “We will use every avenue available to us; legal, legislative, policy, organizing and even direct action to protect our communities and our future.”