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Tar sands development continues expansion into U.S.

Tar Sands Solutions - June 19th 2013

First they came to Alberta, then Utah. Now, tar sands mines are trying to find a home in the Bluegrass State. According to WFPL News, Arrakis Oil Recovery plans to open an open-pit strip mine in southern Kentucky to extract up to 1,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day from two sandstone deposits in Logan County.

According to James Bruggers’ Watchdog Earth blog, Arrakis has received one of two permits it has requested from the Kentucky Department of Natural Resources, which regulates mining activities. Arrakis received a permit on June 1, 2012, for 108 acres one mile southwest of Costelow. Arrakis is also seeking a permit for 154 acres located about a half mile southwest of Homer.

According the Corps, the company proposes to fill 3,057 linear feet of ephemeral streams and 1,542 linear feet of intermittent streams as well as wetlands and open water.

Unbelievably, given the nature of open-pit strip mining, Arrakis claims this particular tar sands mine won’t be nearly as dirty and destructive as the ones in northern Alberta. Arrakis spokesman Jeffrey Wilson said all the process water will be recycled, the clean sand will be put back into the mining pit, and no tailings will leach into the groundwater.

Sound familiar? It should. The oil industry made the same claims in Alberta, only to create gigantic tailings ponds that leak 11 million litres of toxic waste into the groundwater every day.

Arrakis’s claims should be taken with a grain of salt. Few details are available to back up the company’s claims and, according to Bruggers, it has already damaged wetlands without the necessary approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Kentucky Waterways Alliance’s Tim Joice says he’s not convinced the sand will be clean, and he worries excess nutrients will pollute the watershed. “Those elements, when put into the environment, can cause water quality impacts if they are in larger numbers,” he told WFPL News. “And so if the sand still contains some of those elements, then that could be a problem.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Oil Sands Inc. (a Canadian company) is facing increasing opposition to its proposed tar sands mine in Utah. "We are talking about strip mining, the complete use of the permit area," Anne Mariah Tapp speaking on behalf of Grand Canyon Trust, told the Salt Lake Tribune. "The proposed development is occurring on top of aggressive conventional energy development. There is a limit to the environmental carrying capacity of the [Uinta] Basin that is going to be reached."

Tapp predicts the federal Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species acts will complicate permitting, especially since the proposed tar sands mine is located in the Book Cliffs area near some of Utah’s most popular protected areas, which has superb wildlife and scenic values.

"We will see direct action. We saw it today," Tapp said. "You will see people showing up at mines and chaining themselves to bulldozers."

Friends of the Earth Europe's new film, To the Ends of the Earth, explores the devastating impacts of global tar sands development, and documents the efforts of local communities in Madagascar trying to protect their island home from tar sands development.

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