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Oil Sands Mine Pauses Operations

U.S. Oil Sands is temporarily shuttering operations in eastern Utah at its mine on the Tavaputs Plateau.

Barclay Cuthbert, the Canadian company’s vice president of operations, says most workers have been sent home. But they’ll be back early next year to begin extracting oil from the tar-saturated rock and soil.

“When we do start up, we want to make sure that we have the resources so that we can continue operating and continue with our production,” he says, “so it was a tough decision but it was a necessary decision for the company.”

U.S. Oil Sands announced last week that it needs more money – about $7.5 million -- to begin producing oil. The plant itself is built and ore’s stockpiled. The company is using a citrus-based solvent to separate the oil from the ore and eventually produce 2,000 barrels of oil a day.

“We’re very excited,” he says, “and our staff is very excited, to turn on the switch and start seeing the operation work.”

Meanwhile, John Weisheit, director of the environmental group Living Rivers, says the project’s stalling this time for another reason. He checked state project records and learned that its water and mining permits aren’t up to date.

“That is part of the reason why U.S. Oil Sands has delayed their startup at PR Springs,” he says.

Critics like Weisheit contend that the mine puts nearby water at risk, but the company insists its method means less pollution and environmental disruption.

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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