Tag: mining

Tar Sands Mining Hits the American West

Tar Sands Mining Hits the American West

Protestors with Peaceful Uprising at the test pit of the planned Utah tar sands mine (via Peaceful Uprising)
Protestors with Peaceful Uprising at the test pit of the planned Utah tar sands mine (via Peaceful Uprising)

Tar sands, also known as oil sands, require intensive processing to produce usable crude—it can take two tons of sand to produce just one barrel of oil. The expense of extracting and refining that oil (and the pollution the process entails) has historically kept most of it in the ground. However, beginning in 2000, rising oil prices and calls for North American energy independence set off a tar sands boom in Alberta (not to mention an endless debate in this country about the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta’s tar sands oil to the States). Fifteen years later the industry has cleared or degraded nearly two million acres of boreal forest, created toxic tailings ponds and other waste, and become Canada’s fastest-growing greenhouse gas emitter. And now it’s looking south. 

In July 2015, Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining issued a permit clearing the way for the opening of this country’s first commercial tar sands mine amid eastern Utah’s Tavaputs Plateau, which sits atop an estimated 20 billion to 32 billion barrels of recoverable oil. 

At a moment of growing public consensus that it’s time to move away from dirty energy, the decision to open up Utah canyon country to the development of what many consider the dirtiest energy source of all sends a decidedly contradictory—if not perverse—message. “If the fuels are made available,” says Dan Mayhew, the chair of the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter, “the amount of carbon that could be emitted is staggering”—as much as 48 billion metric tons just from the oil shale, according to a Sierra Club estimate. 

“Tar Sands Mining Hits the American West”

Audubon Magazine, September/October 2015

Rare-Earth Reality Check

Rare-Earth Reality Check

Powdered oxides of rare-earth minerals (Peggy Greb, USDA ARS)

A run on rare earth metals, used to make solar panels, military hardware and cell phones, is driving a frenzy for mining claims in the West.

My April 17, 2011 story in High Country News looks at the rush and the reality behind a rare-earth boom in the U.S.

Share
Abandoned Mines and the Shaft

Abandoned Mines and the Shaft

FORESTfall09coverThere are literally more than 59,000 abandoned mines around the West, and no one who is responsible to clean them up. That’s one sticky element that accounts for the long-standing impasse over reform of the country’s Mining Act of 1872. After decades of contention, mining officials and environmentalists claim the mining law could finally get a makeover.

I wrote an article, “Mining for Reform,” on what Congress is looking at to reform the 1872 law in the Fall 2009 issue of Forest Magazine. The issue brought together several articles looking at the consequences of abandoned mines on Western public lands, under the title of “Hardrock Headache.”

Read More Read More

Share