Photo: Jungbim via Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
You've likely heard about the infamous Tar Sands in Alberta, Canada. They're a major source of controversy in the energy world and the environmental community (to put it lightly), and for good reason. Extracting oil from tar sands is far more degrading to the environment than typical oil extraction, as the process destroys forest, emits substantially more greenhouse gas, contaminates nearby habitat, and consumes mammoth amounts of water. And now, the United States could be getting its very first commercial tar sands project in Utah. The Associated Press reports that "A top Utah regulator approved plans Monday for the first commercial U.S. oil sands project. John Baza, director of Utah's Division of Oil, Gas & Mining, upheld an earlier decision by his staff to give Earth Energy Resources Inc. a permit to mine a 62-acre pit in eastern Utah."
Now, the project is still seeking funding -- Earth Energy is trying to drum up $35 million to finance the project -- and it could be halted by national regulators. But if it does get underway, it, like the Canadian tar sands, will be absolutely devastating. There's a reason that many environmental groups consider the already existing tar sands the most environmentally deadly operation around: It's hard to conceive of a project that's more destructive in more areas.
The Huffington Post has a pretty good, brief rundown on Canada's Alberta tar sands:
According to Alberta's government, their oil sands are the second largest source of oil in the world following Saudi Arabia. In 2008, Environmental Defence released a report condemning Alberta's tar sands as "the most destructive project on Earth," polluting water with toxic waste, destroying a large portion of the boreal forest, provoking acid rains, and drastically contributing to greenhouse gases in the environment.By some estimates, greenhouse gas emitted over the course of the tar sands extraction and refinement process are up to three times as great as those produced by a typical oil refinery. And it has a habit of absolutely soiling the surrounding environment. Furthermore, the Utah tar sands is projected to impact Utah's billion dollar tourism industry, and could lead to job loss in that sector. Needless to say, this is not something we need at a time when we should be seeking to reduce national emission levels and keep our natural wilderness as pristine as possible.