Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The Book Cliffs area south of Vernal is proposed for the nation's first commercial tar sands mine. Environmentalists oppose the project warning of water pollution. The Utah Supreme Court will decide on the matter.
Utah Supreme Court hears challenge to tar sands permit
Environment » If permit is upheld, drilling could begin this spring.
First Published Mar 04 2014 06:16 pm • Last Updated Mar 04 2014 10:42 pm

The Utah Supreme Court is deciding whether the state’s first oil-producing tar sands mine was appropriately permitted by state regulators.

The court challenge is the last hurdle for the U.S. Oil Sands project, which could begin this spring if the permit is upheld.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Environmentalists say the Division of Water Quality incorrectly concluded there is no groundwater near the 213-acre project area on state trust lands in the Book Cliffs. U.S. Oil Sands intends to strip mine to a depth of 150 feet.

But during arguments Tuesday, Justice Thomas R. Lee questioned whether the court should second-guess decisions made by an agency expert in analyzing industrial impacts to groundwater.

‘’How we are supposed to know where to draw the line? Shouldn’t we defer to their judgment?" Lee asked.

Administrative law judge Sandra Allen endorsed the division’s findings and approval in 2012, setting up the show down in the state’s highest court. The no-groundwater finding was key to the state’s approval of the mine.

The company hopes the mine will yield up to 2,000 barrels of oil, extracted through a process that uses a citrus-based solvent to separate bitumen from rock. Bitumen is a viscous hydrocarbon that can be refined into liquid oil.

Up to 9 million tons of mining waste contaminated with hydrocarbons — further exposed by the solvents — will be deposited in two piles totalling 70 acres and into the 62-acre mine pit.

Lawyers for Living Rivers contend groundwater from precipitation has accumulated near the surface, and that the seeps and springs it feeds could be imperiled by the project.

The nearest groundwater is the Mesa Verde aquifer, 1,500 feet below the surface, countered Utah Solicitor General Bridget Romano. The intervening shale and mudstone formations are an impermeable barrier to anything seeping from the mine operations, she said.


story continues below
story continues below

"There is no groundwater," she said. "Even if there were, there is no showing of anything greater than a de minimis impact," too trivial to be of concern.

bmaffly@sltrib.com



Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.