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BLM Being Sued in Utah Over Tar Sands Plans


    Among what I consider to be one of the strangest plans to bolster the country's energy resources is to go after "tar sands" in the Southwest.
    Not until oil prices began to skyrocket did folks think mining these sands for the oil trapped within could be economical. Even then, the environmental problems -- large quantities of water and energy are needed to process these sands -- associated with mining tar sands are significant.
    Extracting oil from tar sands generates two-and-a-half times as much greenhouse gas as conventional oil production. The Alberta Tar Sands project is the largest single reason why Canada's emissions have risen drastically since the country signed the Kyoto Accord.
    You can find the rest of that story here.
    Any way, the point of this post is that a lawsuit was filed in Utah today in a bid to stop the U.S. Bureau of Land Management from leasing expired oil and gas leases in the name of tar sands recovery.

    The lawsuit was filed by the National Parks Conservation Association, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and The Wilderness Society. According to these groups, the BLM is eying leases within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and two wilderness areas. At the heart of the lawsuit is the groups' contention that the BLM is trying to reinstate leases that expired more than a decade ago.
    "BLM's decision to try and breathe new life into these leases is illegal and directly contradicts the agency's normal procedures," says Stephen Block of SUWA. "This outrageous decision unnecessarily exposes tens of thousands of acres of Utah's most sensitive lands to one of the world's most destructive mining technologies."
    According to the groups, back in the 1980s the BLM prepared a draft impact analysis on the impacts of tar sands development and concluded that it "would bring significant, long-term environmental degradation to Utah's pristine environments and necessitate tremendous water use and substantial infrastructure for on-site refining and processing."
    NPCA's Southwest Regional Director, David Nimkin, says "tar sands extraction could damage Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Capitol Reef National Park and impact air quality and visibility at Canyonlands and Arches national parks. Utah's national parks are vital to the state economy. We shouldn't compromise these places."
    For more details on tar sands mining in Utah, check out NPCA's release on today's developments.
    At The Wilderness Society, officials aren't terribly surprised by the BLM's move towards tar sands development.
    "Because of its industry-friendly history, it is not surprising that BLM has decided to give the benefit of the doubt to oil and gas development rather than to environmental protection," says TWS's Suzanne Jones. "But when there is already a huge surplus of oil and gas permits that have yet to be developed in the state, do Utahns really want to open the Grand Staircase and other special lands to the same environmental disaster that is creating global environmental concern in Alberta?"


I am just completing the environmental history of Canyonlands National Park. This will be published separately by the NPS and a university press. Chapters Four and Six and the conclusion of the book deals with the tar sands issue in relation to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, future hopes of the NPS to expand Canyonlands to a rim-to-rim park, and overall ecology of the Greater Canyon Lands region. I want to be as up to date as possible as I near the final revisions and publication process. If anyone wants to help keep me in the loop that would be great. Samuel Schmieding, Ph.D Arizona State University History Department

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