First phase of Book Cliffs oil sands project construction to begin this year in Uintah
by Steve Kadel
staff writer
Mar 07, 2013 | 2958 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Construction of the nation’s first commercial oil sands project is scheduled to begin near the Book Cliffs during the second half of the year with production starting in 2014, according to spokesmen for U.S. Oil Sands.

They said the project will employ 75 to 100 people during the first year, with a projected 2,000 barrels of oil produced each day. The company plans to begin construction on approximately 3,000 acres being leased from the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) in Uintah County, about 35 miles north of Interstate 70 and two miles north of the Book Cliffs. The actual phase one project site will encompass 213 acres in Uintah County.

Barclay Cuthbert, vice president of operations for the Canada-based company, said all required permits have been received, although Moab-based Living Rivers has appealed the Water Quality Board’s approval and the case is headed for the Utah Supreme Court. That will not prevent work from proceeding, he said, unless an injunction is handed down.

Cuthbert said the appeal concerns “matters of law … whether [the board] interpreted the law correctly.”

While the first phase of the project is in Uintah County, U.S. Oil Sands officials already are moving forward with plans to also drill on 24,000 acres of SITLA lands they lease in Grand County. Cuthbert, government relations manager Randy Johnson and administration manager Emma Harrow met with Grand County Council members Gene Ciarus, Lynn Jackson and Elizabeth Tubbs on Thursday, Feb. 28, to describe the company’s plans.

U.S. Oil Sands needs a conditional use permit from the council, in addition to state permits, to develop its leased land in Grand County. Work here would not begin before 2016, Cuthbert said.

He added that specific drilling sites in Grand County haven’t been determined. However, test holes dug in 2011 showed the area contains oil, Cuthbert said.

During the meeting with county council members, Johnson said opponents of oil drilling have misrepresented U.S. Oil Sands’ PR Spring project in Uintah County. He said opponents allude to oil sands projects in Canada that have large tailings ponds, although there will be no settling ponds in Utah.

“There’s a certain percentage of our residents who will never be for this,” Jackson said.

Living Rivers is among the critics. Spokesman John Weisheit told The Times-Independent, “They are going to strip mine our community. They say they’re going to recycle the water and the solvent they’re using. But they are going to put the waste products in unlined pits. When it rains, it is going to percolate through to ground water and to streams, and animals are going to drink it.

“Their web page makes it look like they’re going to improve the landscape. They’re putting frosting on the cake.”

Johnson said during a meeting with representatives of The Times-Independent on Friday, March 1, that U.S. Oil Sands is doing all it can to avoid damaging the environment.

“We’ve taken steps to make it an environmentally friendly project,” he said.

That includes using a “non-toxic solvent” that is citrus-based and “evaporates quite rapidly from terrestrial and water environments,” Johnson said In addition, 95 percent of the water used in the process will be recycled, he said.

The water will come from the aquifer via wells drilled to 2,500 feet. About 3,000 barrels of water will be needed daily – with each barrel holding 42 gallons.

Cuthbert said the phase one project near the Book Cliffs should produce oil for 15 to 20 years. He added that many employees will be hired locally, and a camp will be built to house workers on-site. The crude will be trucked to Salt Lake City, where there are five oil refineries.

Johnson said U.S. Oil Sands could help the area expand from a one-industry economy.

“Grand County could use some dollars from something besides tourism,” he said. “We’d like to help fill a niche there.”

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