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Utah Oil Sands Project Can Proceed Without Pollution Permit, Water Monitoring

Decision by officials sets the stage for a possible court battle over the nation's first tar sands mine in Utah's fragile Book Cliffs region.

Oct 25, 2012
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Sticky bitumen oozes from a rock in a tar sands test pit on the nearly 6,000 acr

"Substantial evidence ... supports a finding that groundwater has not been located and may be assumed absent in the project area except for a deep regional aquifer," Judge Sandra Allen said in her 40-page recommendation released in August. "The PR Spring facility and operations will have no more than a de minimis [minimal] actual or potential effect on ground water quality."

U.S. Oil Sands' Todd said Wednesday's ruling vindicated not only the company's position that there is no water to contaminate but also reaffirmed the company's commitment as a developer sensitive to environmental issues.

"This issue has gone through a very thorough review at many levels and at each turn it was determined that the U.S. Oil Sands operation did not pose a threat to water of any kind," he said.

Dubuc said the decision was based on an ill-defined characterization of groundwater by the various agencies involved in the review and permitting process. The division of water quality's definition was too vague and consequently open to too much interpretation, he said.

"If you use the wrong definition of groundwater then it's impossible to get the right answer," he said.

Further he said he thinks Utah regulators are reluctant to regulate business no matter the consequences.

"The politics of this state is 'we are open for business' and it is not going to change," he said. "The state has to be willing to regulate or face some unintended consequences to this mining."

Living Rivers Conservation Director Weisheit said he was perplexed by the decision.

"Why do you think the area is named PR Spring? Because there is water there," he said.

He criticized the board for sitting in a conference room and not taking the initiative to visit the area. If they made the trip, Weisheit argued, they could see the water flowing from a spigot at PR Spring about a mile from the proposed mine.

"They think tar sands is more important than water," he said, "and that's from an agency that’s supposed to be concerned with water."

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