Brady McCombs – The Salt Lake Tribune
On a remote Utah ridge covered in sagebrush, pines and wild grasses, a Canadian company is about to embark on something never before done commercially in the United States: digging sticky, black, tar-soaked sand from the ground and extracting the petroleum.
The impending opening of the nation’s first tar sands mine has become another front in the battle across the West between preservationists and the energy industry.
U.S. Oil Sands has invested nearly $100 million over the last decade to acquire rights to about 50 square miles, obtain permits and develop what it says is a brand-new, non-toxic method of separating out the oil with the use of an orange-peel extract similar to what’s in citrus-scented household soaps and detergents.
“We’re dedicated to having the world’s most environmentally responsible oil sands project ever built,” CEO Cameron Todd said in a boast that has failed to reassure protesters.
Across the rolling green hills of the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah, about 165 miles from Salt Lake City, the company plans this fall to begin digging the first in a series of pits, each the size of a football stadium, and start unsticking oil from the sand that crumbles in your hand like a brownie.
Tar sands, also called bitumen, are naturally occurring deposits of petroleum. Unlike the oil that flows out of wells, the hydrocarbons in tar sands must first be separated from the dirt by mixing the stuff with hot water and solvent. The oil is then sold to refineries for eventual use as fuel or an industrial ingredient.
Oil production from tar sands has been going on for years in Canada and Venezuela. The Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline that has been blocked by the Obama administration is supposed to carry tar sands oil. (…)