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Public input invited on Utah tar sands mining proposal

Published May 16, 2013 2:30 pm

Environment • Comments a way to address impacts on Asphalt Ridge, near Vernal.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Bureau of Land Management is inviting public comment on an environmental assessment released this week concerning a proposal to lease about 2,100 acres in Uintah County for a tar sands mining operation.

MCW Energy Group has said it expects to produce 250 barrels a day at the Asphalt Ridge site, a few miles south of Vernal, under an agreement with Temple Mountain Energy Inc., which will supply the ore.

Of the total lease acreage, the BLM report anticipates that 540 acres on the east side of Asphalt Ridge would be used for strip mining and then transition to underground mining continuing westward.

The BLM assessment notes the potential for adverse impacts on:

• Air quality due to emissions from earth-moving equipment and road dust from service vehicles.

• Quality of both surface and ground water from the strip-mining operation and spent tar sands, which could be sources of salts, metals and hydrocarbons.

• Wildlife, which in that area would include the greater sage grouse, golden eagles, burrowing owls and white-tailed prairie dogs.

• Cultural resources such as a Fremont habitation and a "lithic scatter" site with evidence of primitive tool-making activity. Operations in the proposed lease area may lead to damage or destruction and increased potential for vandalism or theft due to increased human access, according to the assessment.

MCW Energy Group has previously said it is using a "closed loop" technique that uses no water and does not discharge anything into the ground

"This is neat and tidy strip-mining. The sand is so clean after processing we can sell it for other uses," company spokesman Paul Davey has previously said. The plan is to return the processed ore to the ground from which it was mined.

Tar sand does not contain liquid oil, but a viscous hydrocarbon called bitumen. It must be mined and heavily processed to produce oil. Critics remain skeptical of both the economic viability of tar sands as well as claims that developing the resource is environmentally benign.

The 30-day public review and comment period for the environmental assessment is open until 4:30 p.m., June 13. —

To submit written comments by June 13

Mail to Bureau of Land Management, Vernal Field Office, 170 S. 500 East, Vernal, Utah 84078

Email to BLM_UT_Vernal_Comments@blm.gov

Submissions should reference "Tar Sands Leasing EA."