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Health, Science & Environment

Environmentalists Question New Oil Sands Mine Proposal

Judy Fahys/KUER
Utah energy officials say the state has more oil sands deposits than any other state.

New plans to mine oil sands in Utah are under review. But environmentalists say state regulators need to take a harder look at the details.

The environmental groups -- Western Resource Advocates, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Living Rivers, the Grand Canyon Trust and Great Old Broad for Wilderness -- are pushing the Utah Division of Water Quality to dig deeper into the Bruin Point Mine’s impacts on its surroundings. They say the mine is close to springs that shouldn’t be allowed to dry up or be contaminated. And the chemical content of the oil-stripping solvent remains secret.

“It’s really unnerving not to know what the makeup of a solvent is when it’s going to be used on a large-scale basis like this and be exposed to the environment,” says Joro Walker, an attorney representing the groups.

The company, American Sands Energy Corp., proposes mining deep in the Book Cliffs near the Carbon County town of Sunnyside. The company did not respond to requests for comment. But it says in a recent news release that the mine will begin producing oil next summer and generate up to 5,000 barrels a day. Jeff Hartley is an industry lobbyist, who disputes the idea that this kind of mining inevitably harms the environment.

“Companies that are going into production in Utah are committed to introducing these new technologies,” Hartley says. “The state of Utah is committed to the best available technologies and the best available controls.”

If mining and environmental officials sign off on the Bruin Point Mine, it will be the second in Utah and the nation. Utah has more oil sands deposits than any other state.

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