Author Archives: Sage Grouse Rebel

July 23-29 Direct Action Training Camp

LEARN MORE AND REGISTER AT CanyonCountryActionCamp.org

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*July 24-29: A Direct action training camp in southern Utah (exact location TBA)

Other affiliated events:

*July 19-21: Downstream Community Leadership Training in Moab, Utah (sponsored by Before it Starts). Find out more at beforeitstarts.org

*July 18-20: Rising Tide National Gathering (location TBA). Find out more at http://www.risingtidenorthamerica.org

As the prospect of tar sandsoil shale, and other forms of extreme energy development threatens to wreak permanent havok on the health and wellbeing of Utah’s people and environment, grassroots organizations and community members from across the region are organizing to fight back.

Large energy corporations from out of state are flocking to Utah in an attempt to convert our public lands into a vast testing ground for extremely high risk extraction technologies like tar sands and oil shale mining. The Canadian petroleum corporation US Oil Sands, Inc is targeting the remote state lands of eastern Utah to be the first tar sands mining project in the USA. If companies like US Oil Sands can prove that these types of dirty extraction operations are economically viable in Utah, then more tar sands and oil shale projects will spring up across the region. Conventional political and regulatory avenues for public opposition have been nearly exhausted, and the proposed mine at PR Spring, north of Moab, has been given the green-light from the state to begin commercial operations, it is now clear that this project can only be stopped by organizing and taking direct action together as impacted communities.

Please join us late this July for a week of trainings, strategizing, and action to continue building the collective grassroots power we need to fight back against the corporate take-over of our public lands, our diminishing water resources, and our common wellbeing.

Traversing the Tavaputs Plateau

Elk

Elk

The air is thin up here at 8,000 feet. I’m sitting near the site of the first tar sands mine in the country, P.R. Springs. The sun’s strength diminishes as it approaches the western horizon–snow capped mountains behind layer after layer of high desert ridges.  Somewhere in those folds, the Green River tumbles though Desolation Canyon. I can hear a wild turkey gobble every now and again. The land continues to rise to the south. From that ridge I can make out the La Sals pointing me home, surrounded by miniature Fisher and Adobe Mesas. I could see a large crack in the rock that must be the almighty Colorado rushing through Horsetheif and Westwater. I could even make out the Abajos, Arches National Park, and Grand Junction lighting up for the evening. We saw 24 elk grazing on the ridge. Down below, between the Colorado River and Book Cliffs, is the Cisco desert and the I-70 corridor, fast becoming home to industrial development – evaporation ponds, a waste-water injection well, new home to the Atlas uranium tailings pile, a proposed nuclear power plant, a proposed tar sands refinery.

US Oil Sands test pit at PR Springs

US Oil Sands test pit at PR Springs

From up on top of the incredible Tavaputs Plateau, which sits upon an even greater Colorado Plateau, I am struck with how preposterous it seems that Uintah County is so removed from people’s realities in Grand County. From this vantage point, it is quite obvious that that all this destruction and pollution from fracking, oil, gas, and now tar sands and oil shale is just upstream and is wrapped in a grand plan that involves all of canyon country. My heart weighs heavy after this visit to the mine site. The buoyant notion that logical thinking leaves in me is slowly deflating. “It’s uneconomical, disastrous for the climate, technology is unproven, there’s not enough water”…Well, they’re paving the way quickly and surely.

This road construction stops right at the PR Springs tar sands mine

This road construction stops right at the PR Springs tar sands mine

The drive from the north was sickening. First Roosevelt and Vernal filled with fracking headquarters, brine mixing stations, chemical distributors, giant trucks toting gas and contaminated (or soon to be) water. Then, mile after mile of freshly paved highway through a freshly scarred landscape crisscrossed with pipelines and polka dotted with well pads. The road turned to grated dirt and signs of construction started to pop up. An empty bulldozer sat next to a newly blazed corridor through a hillside. Mile after mile of mangled old growth junipers and pinons lay dead on their sides. We passed small crews operating gigantic road eating machines. Why would they need a road over 100 feet wide? The four lanes lead right to PR Springs and the Red Leaf Resources oil shale operation. Are Uintah County tax payers paying for this? The upgrade of the high-speed, four-lane trucking route stops right at the county line. Are they anticipating that Grand County will continue the Book Cliffs highway and connect it to the planned energy infrastructure along I-70? Or are they content to truck everything to Salt Lake, already filled with industry’s toxic breath?

Seep Ridge Road Construction. Upgrading a dirt road to a four lane, high speed, trucking route.

Seep Ridge Road Construction. Upgrading a dirt road to a four lane, high speed, trucking route.

We hiked all over the drainage system just below the already huge tar sands “test pit.” The canyons are filled with elk trails, pinon, juniper, ponderosas, and Douglas Fir. Around all the seeps and springs we found groves of aspens and often abandon ranch structures. Water was flowing at some point in every drainage we checked.  US Oil Sands and the state engineer seem to agree that the PR Springs mine site has negligible ground water and thus water pollution cannot be a cause for concern. Getting baseline data for water quality in the area will be essential in this fight. A biologist accompanied us along the hike, counting and pointing out red tail hawks, flickers, chickadees, bluebirds, and starting an inventory of species.

Main Canyon, just below the tar sands test pit.

Main Canyon, just below the tar sands test pit.

We stumbled upon spots around the ridge that had been deforested already for various core samples and wells. In some places, the earth and vegetation had already been scraped off to expose the tar sands. They gray gritty cakes of tar and sand were hard in the cold spring air, very much like a crumbling parking lot buried just below the surface. P.R. Springs has some of the most accessible deposits.

Tar Sands Deposits at PR Springs

Tar Sands Deposits at PR Springs

Excitement and foreboding course through my veins. This fight is much bigger than stopping just one tar sands mine. It’s about also stopping oil shale, corporate manipulation of our public process, and the continued expansion of the extreme energy empire. We’re here, we’re everywhere, and we’re growing in strength. We believe a better way is possible and that the continued exploitation of these fossil fuels is destroying our ability to cope with the needed transition. Extreme energy extraction will no longer be tolerated. The costs are simply too high.

View of the drainage just below the test pit. If allowed to expand, US Oil sands would likely dump all of the "overburden" from mining into this canyon. Industry's term for this is "valley fill."

View of the drainage just below the test pit. If allowed to expand, US Oil sands would likely dump all of the “overburden” from mining into this canyon. Industry’s term for this is “valley fill.”

This tar sands mine was abandoned in 1983, unreclaimed. US Oil Sands has yet to pay their 1.6 million dollar reclamation bond and yet they are already deforesting and strip mining a test pit.

This tar sands mine was abandoned in 1983, unreclaimed. US Oil Sands has yet to pay their 1.6 million dollar reclamation bond and yet they are already deforesting and strip mining a different test pit.

On the Banks of the Green River where industry trucks come to fill up water and brine mix.

On the Banks of the Green River where industry trucks come to fill up water and brine mix.

Fracking Rig outside of Vernal

Fracking Rig outside of Vernal

The Tar Sands Triangle

Overlook in the "Tar Sands Triangle"Overlook in the “Tar Sands Triangle”

by Sarah S.

I just emerged from the windy, winding, wilderness that is referred to by industry as “the Tar Sands Triangle.” It’s a vast stretch of mesa tops bisected by steep, narrow canyon walls, only accessible by forty miles of washboard dirt roads after a barren stretch of highway. I was lucky enough to accompany a group of college students with the Wild Rockies Field Institute into the backcountry to give a lesson on unconventional fuels on the Colorado Plateau.

Historically this area was used by ranch families and was even a hangout for the notorious Wild Bunch when they were running from the law. Cattle, horses, pronghorn, and even wild burrows are scattered between the sand dunes, sage, and blackbrush. Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, mysterious Etta Place, Kid Curry, Elzy Lay, and the rest would herd stolen cattle up to these parts and corral them in tucked away pastures ringed with natural rock walls. They could see a posse coming from miles away because of the dust they’d kick up as they rode. In that time, the Wild Bunch would escape into the canyon maze and emerge 100s of miles away.  Recently this area was dubbed a “Region of Historical Significance,” which in the end will hopefully help protect it against the threat of tar sands mining.

Pronghorn in front of the Henry Mountains, the last explored mountain range in the lower 48.

Pronghorn in front of the Henry Mountains, the last explored mountain range in the lower 48.

The canyons cut steeply down, revealing layer after layer of ancient rock, exposing the past to our curious scrutiny. Navajo domes crown the canyon– peach, pink, ruddy. We followed a trail for a while that was hewn into this rock by ranchers or uranium prospectors. The kayenta layer emerged as we dropped. It’s composed of purplish slabs of fossilized mud from a shallow seashore gone by. Here one can sometimes find the detailed print of a dinosaur foot left on the ancient mud flats.

We hiked down to the canyon bottom where cottonwoods were just leafing out and smells of wet willow blew in spring gusts. It rained all day; there was lighting and thunder overhead. Hail came and went and then the sun shone in a blue sky right before it disappeared over the tall Wingate wall. It’s been dry this year, so the chilly moisture was welcome. As climate change progresses, it’s predicted that this area will become more arid with extremes in heat and drought.

Narrows in White Rim Sandstone. This is the layer that tar sands are found.

Narrows in White Rim Sandstone. This is the layer that tar sands are found.

The class was curious and engaged, they already knew about Alberta Tar Sands and they all believe in climate change. It was nice. Then we delved into details about oil shale and tar sands on the Colorado Plateau. Water use and industrialization of wild places were the main topics of discussion.  At some point one of the students stopped me, “Wait, the oil and gas industry doesn’t have to abide by the Safe Drinking Water Act?” No siree, thanks to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, injection wells for fracking aren’t protected by this act.

It was good to be in that Desert. I hiked out the six miles alone the next day. I was reminded that I come from this place. I don’t own it, no one does, but it has shaped me none-the-less. It’s wild, untamed, inaccessible, un-ownable. It’s fierce, nurturing, resilient and fragile all at once. I am from the Colorado Plateau and if I don’t rise up to protect it, who will? As Edward Abbey nicely put it, “Sentiment without action is the ruin of the soul.” I will not let vast expanses of this wild desert be destroyed, the climate irreparably altered, and our communities bombarded with boom-town trouble for the prosperity of the oil empire. We can do better, and we will.

Rain on the Navajo slickrock.

Rain on the Navajo slickrock.

Wild Rockies Field Institute class hiking into the Dirty Devil River.

Wild Rockies Field Institute class hiking into the Dirty Devil River.

Moab Residents Rally In Support of Greater Canyonlands National Monument

Nearly 60 Moab locals rallied to show their support for the creation of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument on Friday, March 29th.

The event was organized to counter a nearby rally held by the Sagebrush Coalition, who oppose the protection of Greater Canyonlands.

Moab residents march in support of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument during Moab’s annual Easter Jeep Safari, Friday, March 29, 2013. Photo credit: Logan Hansen

The nearly 60 residents gathered at Rotary Park on Mill Creek Drive. Carrying homemade signs with slogans like “Locals for the Monument,” “Camping and Grilling, Not Mining and Drilling,” and “Jeeps? Sure. Tarsands? No!” the residents then marched along the sidewalk on Mill Creek Drive to the location of the Sagebrush rally, which was held on private property near Dave’s Corner Market, about four blocks away.

Approximately eight people were present at the anti-monument rally.

“We’re not here to disrupt their event. We’re here to make it clear there are many locals who support protecting Greater Canyonlands,” said Emily Stock, a Castle Valley native who helped organize the counter-rally.

Greater Canyonlands is facing increasing pressures from oil and gas drilling, potash mining, and tar sands strip mining. A monument designation would protect the region from such extractive industries while preserving recreational access.

Sage Brush Coalition Protest against the Greater Canyonlands Monument

“You’d still be able to jeep and recreate in a Greater Canyonlands National Monument,” Stock said, addressing one of the primary concerns voiced by opponents of monument protection. “Our main concern is unwanted energy development in these areas, not limiting the public’s access.”

The event was peaceful. The 60 marchers cheered as passing drivers honked their horns in a show of support. After a time, the marchers crossed the street and  marched the four blocks back to Rotary Park.

“Today’s rally was a tremendous success for those of us who grew up here and want to keep Greater Canyonlands the way it’s been — unspoiled,” said Stock.

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P1010687

Front-line community stages stunning banner drop in Canyon Country

Today, activists from Grand County, Utah dropped a banner from a large boulder along the route of a popular annual half-marathon. This direct action is in concert with a” week of action against tar sands profiteers”, called for by Tar Sands Blockade.

bannerlegible

This banner was posted along the Half Marathon Race Route. Roughly 5,000 people ran by it, thought about it, then hopefully thought about it for another 5 miles while they ran through gorgeous canyon country. The road will open for public traffic by Saturday afternoon. The banner remains in place for now.

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“The proposed strip mining, processing, shipping, and refining of tarsands in Utah threatens the wild character of this landscape that we love. It would pollute our air, water, and further contribute to catastrophic climate change. I for one am not about to let one of the most destructive industrial processes on earth come to Grand County without a fight,” one activist said.

Come to a meeting, spread the word, hang a banner, plan a direct action.
Check out www.beforeitstarts.org to get involved.  Be our friends (before it starts and canyon country rising tide) on facecrack and they even have a twitter!

Using Tarsands produces 2-4 more times carbon dioxide than conventional oil.

The mining and processing of Tarsands requires as much or more energy as it produces in the end. This extra energy input comes from either fracked natural gas or nuclear power- both of which we also oppose.

Tar sands mining in Canada is the largest and most destructive industrial project in the history of our planet.  The U.S.A. could soon become another home for this kind of mining. The most immediate threat comes from U.S. Oil Sands, Inc, which plans to begin operations this year in an area just 60 miles from where the banner drop (pictured below) took place.  [Read the details about US Oil Sands’ operation]