[UPDATE March 31 2013: Water bottle label now available in high resolution to improve readability. Click to view]
The prospect of tar sands and oil shale mining (i.e. “unconventional fuels”) made this year’s Governor’s Energy Development Summit in Utah anything but conventional.
Media coverage of the conference was dominated by multiple protests going on both inside and outside the convention center, much to the dismay of the companies that are seeking investors for their upstart tar sands and oil shale projects.
One company in particular, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc., bore the brunt of the protesters concerns–and direct actions.
Before it Starts co-founders Ashley Anderson and Kate Finneran took part by smuggling in unsanctioned water bottles and table cards and distributing them widely. The water bottles were adorned with custom labels listing the ingredients in U.S. Oil Sands’ processing solvent. The table cards let the industry folks who were eating lunch with the Governor and Utah’s Congressional delegation know that the water they were drinking had been treated with some of the “safe” solvent. The idea was to let people know exactly what U.S. Oil Sands was referring to as they championed their “environmentally friendly” extraction process, and to bring attention to their first national action, which calls for people around the country to email U.S. Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd demanding a do-over on disputed testing of their mining permits.
For one reason or another, no one in charge of the conference seemed to care that someone was distributing water which claimed to contain extremely poisonous chemicals. ”I thought we’d get arrested, or at least thrown out. I even gave one to someone from the Governors office. I guess we’ll need to be less subtle next time.” said Finneran.
Anderson and Finneran also had the opportunity to chat at length with U.S. Oil Sands’ CEO Cameron Todd following his presentation at the first Unconventional Fuels breakout session. Todd had just stated to the audience that his company was publicly owned, therefore accountable to it’s shareholders for everything it claims in public, unlike the “detractors” who were opposed to his company’s plans. Anderson reminded Todd that as a Utah resident expecting his first child, he was rightfully concerned, and didn’t appreciate being referred to as a detractor. Todd also answered some straightforward questions about these concerns, which Before it Starts is in the process of validating now. A full video and transcript of this conversation coming soon.
While this was going on, two protesters from Utah Tar Sands Resistance seized the mic in the main staging area and gave the Governeor a special award, before being forcefully thrown out by security. From then on, the Unconventional Fuels breakouts were heavily guarded by police–unlike the other three sessions that were in the same hall.
Later that day, Utah’s Congressional delegation discussed ways to stop environmental organizations from getting in the way of unconventional fuels development. They were clearly referring to Living Rivers, which is the plaintiff in the legal challenges that have held oil shale and tar sands projects at bay for years. (Living Rivers is also the parent organization of Before it Starts.)
On day two, BIS’ Anderson was given the mic at the end of the final Unconventional Fuels breakout session, and took the opportunity to remind the participants that their perceptions of the protesters were inaccurate. You can read his post about what he said and why here.
Outside, a large rally pulled together by members of HEAL Utah, the Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Before it Starts, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and others took off around 12:30. After some speeches, they started singing “This Land is Your Land” and stormed the Salt Palace Convention Center, until they were turned around by security. (This was in the tradition of a 2010 rally outside the Utah Capitol surrounding HB477 , during which over 100 protesters flooded into the capitol rotunda and up to the legislative chambers, scaring lawmakers enough that they quickly overturned the controversial law.)
“I am proud of what we are doing here in Utah, as concerned citizens from a wide range of backgrounds, to confront this kind of energy development. This Summit proves we are good at working together. But the first tar sands and oil shale mines in the United States are a national issue. Our work at Before it Starts is to serve fill the role of on-the-ground liaison to organizations and individuals from all over the country that are already working on the issue or want to become involved,” Anderson said.