Utah - PR Springs Tar Sands

State: Utah
Region: PR Springs, Utah

The state of Utah gave Canadian based company, U.S. Oil Sands, the green light to proceed with the first tar sands development in the USA, without first obtaining pollution permits or requiring groundwater monitoring. A considerable amount of earthmoving has begun on state land at the 213-acre PR Springs site which is now 85% complete. In July 2015, after pressure from environmental groups and a study that found that the area is a recharge zone where snowmelt and precipitation enter the subsurface to feed perennial springs in nearby canyons, state officials denied expansion plans for the project, requiring the company to develop a groundwater monitoring plan, along with air quality assurances, before moving forward.

In February 2016, the project came to a halt after after a review prompted by low oil prices and delays caused by the closure of Utah-based operations of two key contractors. The company said it needs additional capital for commissioning, start-up and operations to validate its unique extraction technology.

Spurred by Alberta’s tar sands boom, pressure to develop the Colorado River Basin’s deposits is growing.  Over a million federal and state acres are allocated for leasing with industry targeting the shallow deposits in Utah’s Uinta Basin.

Tar sands development faces large opposition because it requires full surface disturbance through strip mining, and its rate of energy return is in question - it requires enormous amounts of water and energy to extract and refine. In Canada, the tar sands industry is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases, creating 40 million tons of CO2 per year.  The extraction of tar sands oil produces three times the number of heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution as conventional oil while using huge amounts of our remaining water supplies in the process.  The Green River Formation holds estimates of up to 1 trillion barrels of oil, which if fully developed, could release carbon impacts that are vastly greater than conventional oil.

The BLM’s own studies suggested that any level of tar sands development would bring significant, long-term environmental degradation to Utah’s pristine environments and require tremendous water use and substantial infrastructure for on-site refining and processing.