Uintah Basin

Sun, 2014-02-16 07:00Anne Landman
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Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

Think only Canadians need to worry about tar sands extraction? Think again.

In October, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. joined Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery as the second company to receive a permit to produce U.S. tar sands. The Utah Water Quality Board gave U.S. Oil Sands a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah's tar sands reserves. 

Despite its name, U.S. Oil Sands is actually a Canadian outfit based in Calgary, Alberta. The company currently holds leases on just over 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin. U.S. Oil Sands' mining will take place at PR Spring on the Colorado Plateau in an area called the Bookcliffs, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border.  

U.S. Oil Sands' water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what's referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

When it finally gets to this point in the production process, the mixture is still so thick it can't be pumped through pipelines.

Thus, it undergoes even more treatment with a hydrocarbon solvent to reduce the viscosity and density of the sludge. Wastes from the process — which contain water contaminated with chemicals and unrecoverable oils — are called “middlings” and will be disposed of in surface tailings ponds and kept long-term.

Tue, 2013-08-13 07:00Sharon Kelly
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Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking's Climate Impact Grows

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands – one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development – to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

But the haze over the Uintah isn’t the most dangerous air pollutant coming from the oil and gas fields in the valley.

A string of studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the core ingredient in natural gas, methane, is leaking at rates far higher than previously suspected.  This methane has climate change impacts that, on a pound-for-pound basis, will be far more powerful over the next two decades than the carbon dioxide emissions that have been the focus of most climate change discussions.

The smog problem is especially pronounced in Utah. But a growing body of research nationwide suggests that methane is leaking from the natural gas industry at levels far higher than previously known.

In Washington D.C., pressure is mounting to ignore these methane leaks. The oil and gas industry says there is no time to waste. We must proceed immediately with the “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy they say, code for “drill baby drill”. This pressure is coming not only from the natural gas industry itself, but also from a surprising ally: the Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported natural gas development as a “bridge” from coal to renewables.

This position has drawn renewed accusations that the EDF is “greenwashing” for the natural gas industry.

Tue, 2012-07-17 01:08Steve Horn
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Does Red Leaf's "EcoShale" Technology Greenwash Oil Shale Extraction?

At the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008, former Vice President Al Gore called the possibility of fossil fuel corporations extracting oil shaleutter insanity.” 

Insanity, though, doesn't serve as a hinderance for deeply entrenched and powerful fossil fuel interests.

Oil shale, also known as kerogen, should not be confused with shale gas or shale oil, two fossil fuels best known from Josh Fox's “Gasland.” As explained in a report by the Checks and Balances Project,

Oil shale itself is a misnomer. It is actually rock containing an organic substance called kerogen. The rocks haven’t been in the ground for enough time or under enough pressure to become oil. Oil companies need to recreate geological forces to produce any energy from it. Ideas for developing oil shale have included baking acres of land at 700 degrees for three to four years and even detonating an atomic bomb underground.

The really “insane” part of the equation: oil shale production, which has yet to begin, would be ecologically destructive to the extreme.

“Because oil shale is a rock, commercial production would release 25% to 75% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil,” wrote the Western Resource Advocates. Furthermore, like tar sands production and shale oil/gas production, oil shale production is a water-intensive process.

Adding insult to injury, in the 100 years of attempted commercial production of oil shale, the fossil fuel industry has yet to seal the deal, motivating an April 2012 report by Checks and Balances titled “A Century of Failure.”

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