Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ruling Exempting First U.S. Tar Sands Mine from Water Pollution Monitoring Is Challenged

The debate over whether oil sands mining should be allowed in Utah inched forward last week when an environmental group and the company that wants to open the mine both filed papers responding to a judge's recent ruling on whether water resources will be adequately protected.

Administrative Law Judge Sandra Allen ruled on Aug. 28 that the Utah Division of Water Quality acted legally when it decided that U.S. Oil Sands Inc. should not have to conduct water monitoring or obtain a pollution permit to begin mining on Utah's Colorado plateau, an arid region dotted with oil and gas wells and used by hikers and hunters.

On Wednesday Living Rivers, a Moab, Utah-based environmental organization, submitted a 22-page brief arguing that the judge erred when she determined that the only water deserving of protection is found in deep aquifers and that there is so little water close to the surface that it does not qualify for protection under Utah law.

U.S. Oil Sands also filed a brief on Wednesday—supporting the judge's decision. The company plans to begin mining its first 213-acre site in 2014.

State mining regulators have given U.S. Oil Sands permits to rip open nearly 6,000 acres of state-owned land in the Book Cliffs region of the Colorado Plateau, about 70 miles north of Moab. The company has already scooped open a two-acre test pit and drilled a number of wells searching for water to use in the extraction process. So far, it has found water only in very deep aquifers, between 1,500 and 2,000 feet below the surface.

After the judge ruled in U.S. Oil Sands' favor, company executive Cameron Todd said the ruling vindicated not only the company's position that there is no water to contaminate but also that its mining process is environmentally friendly. The company said its extraction process will recycle much of the water and will not leave behind the pools of toxic waste often associated with oil sands mining. Inside Climate News