Pulitzer winning climate news.
facebook twitter subscribe
view counter
Multimedia

In Photographs: America's First Tar Sands Mining Site

Bitumen weeping zebra stripes from a rock turned over in a test pit on the nearly 6,000 acres of land that U.S. Oil Sands leases in eastern Utah. On Oct. 24, Utah officials gave the company the greenlight to begin large-scale mining of the site without first obtaining a pollution permit or monitoring groundwater quality. The action sets the stage for a possible court battle over the fragile region.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

Click here to read the accompanying story, Nation's First Tar Sands Mine Stirs Water, Environmental Fears Out West

A pile of oil sands sits inside the U.S. Oil Sands' two-acre test pit in the PR Spring area.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

U.S. Oil Sands dug two deep pits using mechanical shovels that rip out two-ton bites of earth at a time.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

U.S. Oil Sands recently raised $10.2 million from the sale of stock through the Canadian Stock Exchange to finance further development of its PR Spring operation.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

Sticky bitumen oozes from a rock. U.S. Oil Sands estimates 189 million barrels or 7.9 billion gallons of bitumen can be squeezed from the land it leases.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

John Weisheit is the Conservation Director of Living Rivers, a Moab, Utah-based environmental organization dedicated to protecting the West’s scarce water resources.

Photo: David Hasemyer

It's estimated that it will take 4,000 pounds of oil sands like this chunk to produce 20 gallons of gasoline.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

Weisheit shows the tarry residue left on his fingers after he examined a piece of tar sands.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

From inside the U.S. Oil Sands test pit, the sage and piñon pines that blanket the land give the high plateau an undulating aqua hue stretching from horizon to horizon.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

The elevation at the mining site is 8,100 feet. The site is located on the remote Colorado Plateau south of Vernal, Utah and north of the town of Moab, in an area called the Book Cliffs, once the domain of the Ute and Ouray tribes.

(The site is called PR Spring, although the sign says PR Springs.)

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

A Caterpillar tractor scrapes away sagebrush to prepare an area where U.S. Oil Sands drilled one of the five wells it has drilled in search of water.

A letter written by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining said "It is expected that the mine will use 116 gallons of water per minute on a 24-hour basis."

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

Once the bitumen seam is exposed, U.S. Oil Sands will use a surface miner similar to this one to extract the bitumen.

Photo: U.S. Oil Sands

This machine is part of the equipment U.S. Oil Sands, once known as Earth Energy, will use to separate bitumen from soil using a citrus-based solvent and water. The company says it will rely on recycling to reduce water consumption.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

Less than a mile from the U.S. Oil Sands mine, a sign at the entrance to PR Spring warns visitors to safeguard the campground’s water.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

Water from a spigot at PR Spring splashes though John Weisheit’s fingers. He questions U.S. Oil Sands’ contention, and that of Utah water regulators and an administrative law judge, that there is so little water in the area that no water pollution permit is needed.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

After the bitumen has been extracted from the U.S. Oil Sands’ mines, which will be as deep as 150 feet, company officials promise the earth will be returned to its natural state.

Photo by David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News