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White Mesa Uranium Mill Problems Provoke Legal Notice [Press Release]

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

For Immediate Release, January 29, 2014

Contact:  Anne Mariah Tapp, Grand Canyon Trust (512) 565-9906

Uranium Mill Problems Provoke Legal Notice

SALT LAKE CITY, UT— Ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act at the nation’s only operating uranium mill have prompted Grand Canyon Trust to file a 60-day notice of intent to sue Energy Fuels Resources, the owner of the White Mesa Mill, located near White Mesa and Blanding, Utah.

White Mesa Mill | Photo: Taylor McKinnon, Grand Canyon Trust

In the notice Grand Canyon Trust cites data showing that in 2012 and 2013 the annual average radon-222 emissions at the mill exceeded hazardous air pollutant standards. Exposure to radon-222 is linked to cancer, genetic defects, and increases in mortality. It further alleges that, during that same time period, mill owners operated six tailings impoundments when only two are allowed, and that two of those are larger than the maximum…

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Utah OKs commercial oil shale mine

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

Before It Starts

Original article by The Associated Press, Durango Herald

SALT LAKE CITY – A Utah company has cleared a final hurdle to develop the first commercial oil shale mine in the nation.

The Utah Division of Water Quality on Friday issued a groundwater permit to Red Leaf Resources, which plans to develop a shale mine on state land in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah.
Red Leaf hopes to become the first company to extract oil in commercial amounts from shale that exists in abundance under Utah, Colorado and Wyoming, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Oil-shale deposits in the three states represent a potentially huge, unconventional energy resource, but the trick is turning it into oil. Oil shale is rock that contains kerogen, which must be subjected to high heat before it produces liquid.

Companies have been trying to figure out how to do that commercially in the U.S. with limited…

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SE Utah Coalition fights oil and gas

 

A group of concerned citizens opposed to the Moab-Monticello Bureau of Land Management oil & gas lease sale gathered in Moab Friday to deliver letters and petitions with 76,000 signatures from around the country, asking the BLM to protect the region’s watersheds and clean air.  The letters, drawn from around the country as well as locally, seek to halt the auction of thousands of acres of federal lands in southeast Utah to oil and gas companies. An informal coalition of individuals and groups—among them Canyonlands Watershed Council, the Sierra Club, and Deep Green Resistance—has formed to address oil and gas development in the region.

Many worries center around pollution of ground and surface water—in this case, potentially affecting public drinking water supplies. “Several of the parcels proposed for auction are either overlapping or immediately adjacent to wells and reservoirs that are the sole drinking water source for thousands of people,” said Laurel Hagen of the Canyonlands Watershed Council, a group based in Moab, Utah. “Two parcels west of Monticello are right over the reservoir protection zone, the parcel south of Moab is within the aquifer recharge area for several proposed county wells, and the parcel near La Sal is less than half a mile from the well at the elementary school.”

Several of the letters also state concerns with lowering local air quality, due primarily to energy development and production in the Canyonlands region. “Though the valleys where people live are much more susceptible to air pollution, the BLM is basing its claims of acceptable risks to air quality on the only monitoring station, which is up in Canyonlands National Park,” said Michael Carter of the local chapter Deep Green Resistance. “And even that isolated station has registered levels close to violating air quality standards,” he added.

“In places like Lisbon Valley, which is a sacrifice zone for mining and drilling, all of these impacts to air and soil and wildlife are adding up. And several of the smaller parcels are near full-time residences and pose an immediate risk to human health,” said Kiley Miller, who lives near one of the parcels proposed for auction. Miller started the petition effort with Credo Action Network, and Food and Water Watch has since joined. 

The official public comment period for the Environmental Assessment ends on October 19th, though the public may still submit unofficial comments until the final decision on the sale. The BLM will issue the final list of parcels to be leased at a yet-to-be-determined date. The auction is scheduled for February 2013.

Opposition mounts as first tar sands mine in US gets a green light, by Melanie Jae Martin

Activists in Utah crafted this sign with bitumen found in pools on the ground at an abandoned tar sands mine. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

Thanks for Waging Nonviolence (http://wagingnonviolence.org/2012/09/opposition-mounts-as-first-tar-sands-mine-in-us-gets-a-green-light/) for this article.

Last week, a new front opened in the struggle against tar sands mining in the U.S. If you didn’t know that tar sands mining is in the works on this side of the border in the first place, you’re not alone. Most people don’t realize that tar sands extraction, which has caused tremendous pollution and environmental degradation in Canada, has crossed the border to U.S. soil, where it has taken root in Utah.

Activists on both sides of the border have been working fervently to halt the spread of tar sands in Canada and the piping of tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. Beginning with Tar Sands Action’s mass arrests outside the White House in August 2011, followed by the Indigenous Environmental Network’s protests at the climate talks in Durban that December, activists have made Canadian tar sands mining and the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico a high-profile issue this past year.

Now, direct action campaigns like the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas are continuing the effort to stop construction of the southern leg of the pipeline by disrupting business as usual for the oil industry. The threat of tar sands mining in the U.S., however, complicates the struggle. It forces geographically divergent groups to either divide their efforts or find ways to unite across vast distances. That’s why groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Before It Starts are forming a strategy that can join, as well as compliment, the tornado of opposition that has formed against the tar sands industry.

Before It Starts — co-founded by Ashley Anderson, who began Peaceful Uprising with Tim DeChrisopher in 2009 — is focusing primarily on national outreach, while Utah Tar Sands Resistance is focusing on forging local and regional coalitions. In both groups, activists who have experience in nonviolent direct action are prepared to ramp up efforts when the time is right. Thus far, however, the struggle has mainly been waged in the courtroom.

This two-acre mine is just the beginning of U.S. Oil Sands’ plans for the region. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

The environmental group Living Rivers initiated a legal challenge in 2010 to halt the progress of what’s set to become the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S. — a forested area in Eastern Utah called PR Spring, which the state has leased a portion of to the Canadian mining company U.S. Oil Sands. Living Rivers has contested the company’s permit to dump wastewater at the mine, but last week, the judge — an employee of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality — sided with U.S. Oil Sands, granting it the right to pour toxic wastewater into the remote wilderness of eastern Utah.

The case hinged on whether or not PR Spring contains groundwater. In the hearing back in May, U.S. Oil Sands argued that the land holds no groundwater, which means that polluting the land wouldn’t contaminate water systems. But according to engineering geologist Elliott Lips, who spoke as a witness for Living Rivers, the land holds numerous seeps and springs, which the toxic tailings would pollute before either continuing to flow into rivers or percolating downward into the Mesa Verde aquifer. Ultimately, the judge was satisfied knowing that the company had conducted its own tests and would have reported water if it had found any.

Raphael Cordray, co-founder of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance, explains that tar sands mining would be incredibly destructive in a number of ways, such as polluting water, lowering river levels and destroying diverse ecosystems. “There’s so much wild land in our state, and that’s something I’m proud of,” she said. “That’s our legacy. And it’s a treasure for the whole world. Some of these places they’re trying to mine are so unique that if more people realized they existed, they’d certainly be considered national parks.”

To catalyze mass resistance, the group plans to lead trips to the site. “Helping people experience the majesty of this land firsthand will show people how much is at stake, and move them to take a stronger stand,” said Utah Tar Sands Resistance co-founder Lionel Trepanier.

Together with activists from Peaceful Uprising and Living Rivers, Utah Tar Sands Resistance visited the PR Spring site two weeks ago, and members returned home ready to ramp up efforts to halt the mining. As a member of both groups, I went along on the trip, because I wanted to see firsthand what the land looked like and whether the mining company’s claims about the absence of groundwater were accurate.

As it turns out, they couldn’t be more false. Water has etched its presence into this land, leaving creek beds that may run low at times but never go away. And clearly, the area holds plenty of water to support the large herds of deer and elk, as well as the aspen, Douglas firs and pinyon pines that make up the dense forest covering much of the land.

The surrounding forest is threatened by U.S. Oil Sands expansion. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

This vibrant green scenery was juxtaposed by the two-acre strip mine just feet away from the forest’s edge. The difference between life and death could not have been more stark. Looking into the face of such destruction, I realized it’s no longer about saving the ecosystem, or saving our water — it’s about saving life on Earth. But that kind of effort isn’t possible without a broad movement behind it.

According to Lionel Trepanier, the groups working on this issue are looking to Texas’ Tar Sands Blockade as a model for building a broad coalition that includes “diverse groups of people like ranchers, hunters, the Indigenous community and climate justice activists.”

“I think we so often assume that someone won’t agree with us just because they seem different from us, when they could be our biggest ally,” said Cordray. “We’re committed to breaking down those barriers formed by fear of reaching out, and approaching people as human beings who need clean water and a healthy environment just as much as we do.”

While still in the first leg of its campaign to stop tar sands and oil shale mining, the group is reaching out with its teach-in and slideshow presentation to a wide range of outdoors retailers, religious communities and groups concerned about environmental quality in the city. When they handed out flyers and spoke with attendees at a recent Nature Conservancy film screening, they were surprised at how many people in the seemingly politically moderate, middle-class crowd were outraged at the prospect of tar sands mining coming to Utah.

An elk herd grazes along the ridgeline near the U.S. Oil Sands mine. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

“People are genuinely shocked this is happening,” said Trepanier. “They just want some direction, some guidance.”

After the Utah Tar Sands Resistance secures a vehicle to use for the trips, they’ll invite people at the teach-ins to attend, and will bring as many as possible to the site. They feel that being in nature together will break down barriers, helping them to see each other not as the labels society assigns them, but as human beings who are mutually dependent on the ecosystem, and on each other.

To raise awareness and empower people to join a coalition that ultimately aims to halt the destruction of tar sands and equally-destructive oil shale mining, Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Peaceful Uprising have been working together on creative methods of outreach. In April, they staged a flash mob dubbed Citizens’ Public Hearing in the office of the state agency leasing out public land for tar sands mining. Dozens of people flooded the office, where a woman playing an elementary school student announced that she had called a public hearing to expose the agency’s misguided decision to let state lands be destroyed. They also performed a similar street play, called Bringing Science Lessons to the Governor, outside the governor’s mansion when he held a luncheon to talk energy policy with four other Western governors.

Members are now building a “tar sands monster,” a Frankenstein-inspired creature who never wanted to be pulled from the earth to pollute the waters, which they believe will make an attention-getting mascot for their efforts. The activists also plan to use online videos of their theatrical endeavors as an outreach tool to get activists across the country thinking about joining them in their struggle when the time is right.

Uniting a diverse range of people such as activists, farmers, landowners and outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom may have not previously thought of themselves as activists, will be important, as this is only the beginning of proposed tar sands operations in the U.S. The state agency (School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA) that leased the PR Spring site to U.S. Oil Sands holds pockets of land scattered around the state, which it may lease for tar sands and oil shale mining.

The Bureau of Land Management is also considering leasing nearly 2.5 million acres of public land throughout Utah, Wyoming and Colorado for tar sands and oil shale mining. Much of this would overlap with indigenous land or is in close proximity to national parks and other protected areas.

In the meantime, Living Rivers will likely appeal the decision to let U.S. Oil Sands dump wastewater into the land. Its success, however, will be determined by the extent to which groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance can educate and empower the general public. Such a base of support, like the one that has formed in Texas, will not only pose a challenge to fossil fuel interests, but also help to usher in a new era of environmental justice.