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Public Speaks Out Again on Oil Sands

Judy Fahys/KUER
Site preparation is already underway at the U.S. Oil Sands PR Spring mine. The company hopes to start producing oil by the years end and to go into full production of 2,000 barrels a day next year.

State mining regulators heard arguments for and against the nation’s first oil sands mine, which is being built in eastern Utah.

Dozens of critics turned out to weigh in Tuesday on a proposal to expand the project.

The meeting’s stated purpose was to discuss U.S. Oil Sands’  request to expand its project site from 213 to 316 acres. But it also gave the environmentalists who are fighting the mine’s state permit another chance to explain why they think it puts streams, the groundwater and the air at risk. It also allowed the company to publicly reject those arguments once more.

More than two dozen people attacked the plan because of its affects on the environment and climate change pollution.

Coalville resident Sara Caldwell called the company callous for the way it handled the public’s concerns.

“Even if there is no water,” she said, “there should be every aspect of monitoring and testing to assure that this is safe.”

Critics have been unsuccessful twice before in their efforts to convince mining regulators to scrap the project. This time, if nothing else, they want regulators to require environmental monitoring at and around the project site.

John Baza, director of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining,  took public comments for 45 minutes.

“I don’t want you to feel my mind is made up,” he said after the public testimony. “I think you need to understand there are things that have been said here today that touched me, and I’m sensitive to those.”

Baza pledged to decide on the expansion in ten days or so with the public comments in mind.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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