The controversial process of extracting oil/tar sands, one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet, is coming to the United States. A Canadian Company called US Oil Sands, Inc. is one of the first to receive a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah’s tar sands reserves, DeSmogBlog reports.
In October, the Canadian company became the second company, along with Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery, to receive a permit for oil sands production from the Utah Water Quality Board. Despite its name, US Oil Sands, Inc. is actually based in Calgary, Alberta.
Oil sands extraction is a dirty process that involves clear-cutting and strip-mining the earth where production will take place. Tar sands consist of a mixture of 85 percent sand, clay, and silt, 5 percent water, and 10 percent crude bitumen. In addition to the difficult extraction process, the crude bitumen must undergo several stages of production just to be usable.
The whole process creates three times more carbon emissions than conventional oil extraction and, in addition to destroying the land, creates massive amounts of waste. “Mine tailings,” or tar sands waste is stored in “tailings ponds,” which pose a threat to the groundwater system and surrounding soil and surface water. According to World Watch Institute:
The high concentrations of pollutants such as naphthenic acids, which are found at concentrations 100 times greater than in the natural environment, are acutely toxic to aquatic life, yet the government has no water quality regulations for these substances… How this tailings waste, and its grave risks, might be dealt with in the long term remains unknown.
Like fracking, the oil sands extraction process also requires large amounts of fresh water. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining estimates that the mine will use “116 gallons of water per minute on a 24-hour basis, which equates to approximately 180 acre-feet per year.”
Water usage is of particular concern to drought-stricken western states. Last month, The Salt Lake Tribune reported that federal officials have designated areas of Utah and 10 other drought-stricken western and central states as “primary natural-disaster areas.” Already, fracking is monopolizing fresh water supplies in many oil-rich states such as Texas, Colorado, and Pennsylvania.
In Alberta, oil sands production is keeping Canada far behind on climate change. The massive industry there has destroyed boreal forests and wetlands, including the diverse wildlife that inhabits those lands. In November, a study by researchers from the Universities of California – Irvine and Michigan found that Canada’s oil sands are contributing to increased rates of blood cancer.
In the United States, Utah will fare no better. The process is high-cost and low-gain. It involves using vast amounts of energy and water, destroying the environment, and producing massive amounts of waste and carbon emissions for the production of low-grade fuel.
Image via: Peaceful Uprising