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Utah Tar Sands, Oil Shale Refinery Challenged
Green River Refinery Would Pollute Air,
Enable Dangerous Oil Shale, Tar Sands Mining in Colorado River Basin
SALT LAKE CITY— A coalition of conservation groups on July 22 filed a “request for agency action” challenging the Utah Department of Air Quality’s June 21 approval of a new oil refinery in Green River, Utah that would affect local and regional air quality and facilitate oil shale and tar sands mining in the Colorado River Basin’s Green River Formation.
The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that between 353 billion and 1.146 trillion barrels of oil in the Green River Formation “have a high potential for development,” which is 2 to 7 times as much as Alberta’s 170 billion barrels targeted by the Keystone XL pipeline.
“The public needs to understand that the Colorado River Basin’s carbon bomb dwarfs Alberta’s,” said Taylor McKinnon, director of energy with Grand Canyon Trust. “In addition to polluting Utah’s already-dirty air, this refinery is another step toward massive strip mining, greenhouse gas emissions and Colorado River drying.”
The groups are challenging the department’s June 21 issuance of a permit approving the plant over several alleged violations of the Utah Air Conservation Act. The challenge was submitted to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and will be heard by an administrative law judge, and potentially later the Utah Supreme Court.
“To experience clean and crisp air in the Green River Desert today, you have to wait for an infrequent thunderstorm to sweep the haze, dust and smoke away,” said John Weisheit, conservation director with Living Rivers. “Only then can you actually see the features of the Book Cliffs, the San Rafael Swell, and the Henry and La Sal mountains.”
The refinery would emit volatile organic compounds, other hazardous pollutants and greenhouse gases while creating now-absent local capacity for processing up to 7 million barrels of heavy crude annually in the heart of Utah’s oil shale and tar sands country.
“People travel from all over the world to enjoy the stunning vistas at Arches and Canyonlands national parks as well as Dead Horse Point,” said David Garbett, a staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “It makes no sense to risk compromising the remarkable views this region offers with visibility-reducing pollution from this refinery.”
Oil shale and tar sands development entails strip mining and dangerous energy and chemical inputs to melt and extract fuel. Greenhouse gas emissions stemming from oil shale and tar sands development far exceed that of conventional oil development. In March the Bureau of Land Management allocated more than 800,000 acres of federal public land in the Colorado River Basin to oil shale and tar sands development.
“Given all of Utah’s current pollution problems under the Clean Air Act, it makes no sense to further harm public health and exacerbate climate change,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Groups filing today’s request for agency action are Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Center for Biological Diversity.
For Immediate Release, July 26, 2013
Lawsuit Challenges 800,000-acre Oil Shale, Tar Sands Plan Across Public Lands in
Utah, Colorado and Wyoming
DENVER— A coalition of seven conservation groups sued the Bureau of Land Management on Thursday afternoon in federal district court in Colorado for allocating more than 800,000 acres of federal public land to climate-warming oil shale and tar sands development without undertaking formal consultation to protect endangered species.
The lands due to be mined are in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming within the Green River Formation, which the U.S. Geological Survey states contains between 353 billion and 1.146 trillion barrels of oil with “high potential for development,” — in fact, so high it holds 2 to 7 times as much as Alberta’s 170 billion barrels targeted by the Keystone XL pipeline.
“Vast mining, carbon emissions and water use will only worsen climate disruption and Colorado River drying,” said Taylor McKinnon, director of energy with the Grand Canyon Trust. “This plan opens the door to that kind of development, and it does so while ignoring the plight of the creatures most vulnerable to its many impacts.”
“This citizen intervention is necessary because the Department of Interior is sending mixed messages to the public. On one day, the administration issues a statement that the Colorado River's critical water supply will be protected for people and habitat, and then on another day they announce the most carbon intensive mining practice on the planet can move forward,” said John Weisheit, conservation director with Living Rivers. “The two programs are not mutually beneficial. Interior has to protect the Colorado River, there is no other choice.”
In March the BLM amended 10 resource-management plans, making 687,600 acres available for oil shale leasing and 132,100 acres available for tar sands leasing. The agency refused to conduct formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species, as required by the Endangered Species Act, despite acknowledging likely impacts to those species.
“The Endangered Species Act requires agencies to consult with the experts at the Fish and Wildlife Service when they know listed species will be impacted,” said Matt Sandler, a staff attorney at Rocky Mountain Wild. "BLM has skipped this step, which will push these species closer to extinction."
Mining for oil shale and tar sands would industrialize backcountry and destroy habitat, pollute and deplete water, and emit greenhouse gases. The allocated lands encompass habitat for several threatened and endangered species, including Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker, Mexican spotted owl and many other threatened and endangered species.
“Our public lands should be managed to protect our air, water and wildlife, not auctioned off for dirty and destructive fossil fuel development that will push us ever closer to climate disaster,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Thursday’s lawsuit comes as atmospheric CO2 concentrations approach 400 parts per million, a milestone in human history. Making fuel from oil shale and tar sands is an energy-intensive process of mining, heating, chemical treatment and refining. Its greenhouse gas emissions would far exceed that of conventional oil. For example, emissions from Alberta’s tar sands development exceed that of conventional oil by several times.
“The BLM should be managing these wild areas for the rich wildlife diversity and recreational opportunities they provide,” said Dan Chu, director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign, “not for dirty fuels development on a giant scale.”
The groups filing today’s lawsuit are Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club. Many of the same groups on Monday challenged a new oil refinery in Green River, Utah, that could process fuels derived from oil shale and tar sands mined in lands subject to this lawsuit.