Oil sands mine

Have you heard the one about the United States producing oil from tar sands? Some joke, huh?

The fight over the Keystone XL Pipeline — which would bring as much as830,000 barrels of tar sands-derived oil per dayfrom Canada toU.S. refineries on the Gulf Coast— has been a bitter and ongoing one. (On Wednesday the pipeline project, which had received an environmental clean bill of health from the State Department earlier this month, hit a legal snag withthe ruling by District Court Judge Stephanie F. StacythatNebraska’s approval of the pipeline route was unconstitutional.)

Why the Opposition?

With tar sands oilcausing at least 40 percent morecarbon emissionsthan conventional oil, it’s not hard to understand whythose concerned about climate change would opposethe pipeline. (See alsohere,hereandhere.) The State Department’s counter is that the tar sands oil would be developed with or without the pipeline, so just let it flow, let it flow, let it flow.

Another reason to oppose the pipeline is the incredibleecologicalandenvironmental tolltar sands extraction cause on local communities. Still, that’s an argument about what to do about another country’s pollution,environmental desolation andrelated problems.

But What If the Issue Struck Even Closer to Home?

It’sbeen reportedthat a Canadian company — with the ironic name of U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. — in partnership with Arrakis Oil Recovery (which has also beentargeting tar sands oil in Kentucky, yes,the stuff is there too [pdf]) has received a permit from the Utah Water Quality Boardto exploit the PR Spring Designated Tar Sand Area of the Uinta Basin of Utah with the intention of producing of 2,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day.

Utah tar sands

Will Utah’s tar sands be developed? At least one company is aiming to do so, but can it clear all the regulatory hurdles?

The permit was granted “without requiring a pollution permit or water monitoring at the … site.” That ruling was subsequently upheld by the water quality board’s administrative law judge, Sandra K. Allen. Allen’s rationale was that there is no appreciable amount of ground water at the site that could get polluted so, I guess, pollute all you want.

Still, to hear U.S. Oil Sands chief executive officer Cameron Todd talk, you’d conclude that there is not need to monitor for pollution anyway: “Ours will be the most environmentally responsible tar sands project ever put on the planet earth.”

Gee, the most environmentally responsible tar sand project on Earth? Sorry, but I’m not impressed. Have you seen a picture of a site that has been mined for tar sands? See photo above and gird yourself for morehere, here and here.Talk about a low bar.

While the final go-ahead to develop all of the PR Spring resource for commercial operation must await approval by the federal Bureau of Land Management [pdf], things are moving along apace. Last month U.S. Oil Sands, which recently opened a Salt Lake City office, announced a partnership with Kellogg, Brown & Root [pdf] “to provide project and construction management services for the Company’s PR Spring Project.”

Meanwhile in New York State,tar sands — of the Canadian variety — is becoming a topic of discussionas well. Does all this talk portend the eventual acceptance of tar sands, either Canadian- or American-produced, in the good old U.S.A.?

Despite Obama’s pledge to act on climate change, he has been quite proud of his “all-of-the-above energy strategy” and the record amounts of domestic fossil fuel production that have resulted. I wonder how proud he will be to add the tar sands oil to that domestic tally.