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Know the West

The Latest: Mining battle update at Utah’s Tavaputs Plateau


Utah's tar sands could yield from 12 billion to 30 billion recoverable barrels of yet-untapped oil, so in 2008, Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands proposed mining the remote Tavaputs Plateau. Though the planned 213-acre mine is small, a profitable tar sands operation could set a precedent, and environmental groups like Moab-based Living Rivers have fought it since its inception ("Will Utah's tar sands make it the Alberta of the high desert?" HCN, 7/23/12).

On June 24, Utah's Supreme Court dismissed Living Rivers' final appeal as "untimely." The group had appealed the mine's 2008 groundwater permit in a last-ditch effort to stop development, but the court ruled that the permit was final because no challenges were filed within 30 days. Lawyers for Living Rivers say meeting that deadline was impossible, given the lack of public notice. Either way, the mine will now proceed. Though the Tavaputs is hardly untrammeled, tar sands refining consumes scarce water, creates massive tailings piles and produces four times the CO2 that conventional oil refining does.