At a time when the Keystone XL pipeline has become a hot political topic for national environment groups, politicians and oil industry officials, Utah has been quietly paving the way for U.S. tar sands production on state lands.
Indeed, if all goes smoothly in the regulatory process, U.S. Oil Sands could begin construction in the state later this year — a fact that environmental groups are eager to spread.
“It’s not just something that’s up in Canada,” said Raphael Cordray, a member of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance, which recently helped stage a guerilla skit in the lobby of Utah’s school trust lands offices to protest state plans to continue leasing trust property to tar sands development companies.
“People don’t know it’s here in Utah. Our goal is to get the citizens of Utah to recognize that there’s a proposed tar sands site in Utah that could become the first commercial site in America, and what is at stake.”
Tar sands are minerals that contain sand, clay and water saturated with a viscous form of petroleum known as bitumen. Bitumen can be refined into gasoline and other oil products. Tar sands — known as oil sands in Canada — have been used for more than a century as a paving material. According to Utah history, Salt Lake City officials began paving their streets with tar sand material before the region became a state.
But efforts to extract the oil from the viscous material have historically been too expensive.
In recent years, however, technology advances in Canada and rising oil prices have made Utah’s tar sands minerals more commercially attractive. At the same time, Utah state officials have been actively wooing companies interested in developing the state’s oil and gas resources.