The Sierra Club and the Indigenous Environmental Network are fighting a project that would bring one of the dirtiest forms of energy extraction in the world to eastern Utah.
The proposed Antelope Creek tar sands oil project threatens to disrupt wildlife, poison and dry up rivers, and harm human health with hazardous air pollutants. The project would also produce an exorbitant amount of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming.
In an effort to prevent these impacts, the groups filed a lawsuit in Utah federal district court this January. The suit challenges approval of the tar sands project by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, which manages the land slated for the development.
“Tar sands oil is one of the world’s dirtiest forms of energy,” said Utah Sierra Club representative Wayne Hoskisson. “This project would suck rivers dry, poison water, pollute the air, and threaten fish and wildlife. At a time when the whole world is turning to clean energy, it doesn’t make sense to encourage such a wasteful and dangerous source of fuel.”
The Antelope Creek tar sands project, proposed by Petroglyph Gas Partners, would drill 300 new wells within 720 acres of land, using deep injection thermal extraction techniques. The project site is home to 13 species proposed or listed under the Endangered Species Act, and an extensive network of creeks that drain into the Duchesne and Green Rivers.
Both mining and processing of tar sands cause significant environmental impacts, including huge emissions of global warming gases, destruction of wildlife habitat, and impacts to air and water quality. In addition to producing greenhouse gas emitting fossil fuels, tar sands development is significantly more energy intensive than conventional oil and gas development.
Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production are three times
those of conventional oil and gas production, and producing synthetic
crude oil emits up to 20% more greenhouse gas emissions than
low-sulfur, light crude oils. Tar sands development, which largely has
been concentrated in Canada, is becoming the country’s largest single
emitter of greenhouse gases. In the United States growing interest in
tar sands development, especially in the western states, could increase
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from new tar sands projects from 27 to
126 million tons by 2015.
In addition, large quantities of water are required for tar sands
extraction operations and would draw down surface water flow, adversely
impacting stream habitat for fish and other species dependant on local
water resources. Drilling one well consumes 5.5 acre-feet of water each
year, and the production of one gallon of oil requires thirty-five
Tar sands are composed of clay, sand, water, and bitumen, a heavy black
viscous oil, which can be mined and processed. Extracted bitumen is
then refined into synthetic oil and other petroleum products. Because
the bitumen cannot be pumped from the ground in its natural state,
deposits are mined using energy intensive extraction and separation
techniques to separate bitumen from the sand, clay and water. Surface
tar sand deposits can be recovered by open pit mining techniques, using
large hydraulic and electrically powered shovels to dig up tar sands
and transport them for extraction using a hot water separation process.
Compressed air and steam injection methods are used to extract deep tar
sand deposits, and those methods require large quantities of water and
energy for heating and pumping. About two tons of tar sands are
required to produce one barrel of oil.
Tar sands activities, including grading, excavation and extraction,
emit a number of hazardous air pollutants that pose health risks to
employees and nearby residents. Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands
production are three times those of conventional oil and gas
Tar sands development, which largely has been concentrated in Canada,
is becoming that country’s largest single emitter of greenhouse gases
and is widely regarded as an environmental disaster.
“In our work on the Canadian tar sands development we’ve learned that
this type of fossil fuel development is very harmful to human health
and has contaminated water resources,” said Jihan Gearon of the
Indigenous Environmental Network.
“It is the BIA’s responsibility to protect the trust assets of Tribes.
By trying to allow this proposal to move forward on the basis of an
outdated and inadequate environmental assessment, the BIA is failing in
its fiduciary responsibility to ensure the environment and well being
of the local Ute tribe is protected,” Gearon said.