Jul 032013

**UPDATE: as of July 8, HUNDREDS of people from 38 states (and counting) have answered the call for solidarity. Can you help us make it 50?**

Army Corps: No Rubber Stamps for Tar Sands!

This summer, a company called Arrakis plans to mine for tar sands in Logan County Kentucky. They are waiting for the Army Corps to issue them the proper permits to go ahead.

Tell the Army Corps that we don’t want tar sands destruction in the US!

Fill out your info HERE to send the following suggested letter:

To the Regulatory Office of the Army Corps of Engineers,

I’m writing today because I have learned about plans for tar sands mining in Logan County, Kentucky. If this goes through, this project will become one of the first in the USA. 

In a state permanently damaged by mountaintop removal coal mining, Logan County and Kentucky as whole will not stand to be “next in line” for another destructive fossil fuel extraction industry. Tar sands mining has become an international catastrophe, making headlines about water, air, and health impacts every single day of the news cycle. Americans do not want to see this kind of mining take hold in the USA.

I am writing to ask you to REJECT Arrakis’ application for a 404 Stream and Wetland Fill Permit. Please protect the citizens of Logan County and those downstream.



Click here to add your name!



 July 3, 2013  Posted by at 10:14 am ACTION ALERT, Impending US Tar Sands operations Tagged with: ,
Jun 252013

“Invest in our dirty fuels!” – U.S. Oil Sands, Inc.

“Divest in dirty fuels!” – President Barack Obama

“D’oh.” – U.S. Oil Sands, Inc.

obama speeching

President Barack Obama gave an historic speech on climate today, and at one point encouraged people all over the world to invest in clean, renewable technologies–and to divest in dirty energy projects.

This must have come as a devastating setback for executives at U.S. Oil Sands, Inc, a Canadian firm trying desperately to lure enough private investment to begin mining tar sands in Utah. It would be the first such mine in the United States. The company has already pushed its start date for production back several times.

If tar sands and oil shale mining in the USA takes off, it would become the largest source of atmospheric carbon on the continent. That’s right: they’re bigger than the Canadian tar sands reserves.

POTUS made no mention whatsoever of unconventional fuels like oil shale and tar sands. He certainly could have, given the “all-of-the-above” jargon that he’s been sticking with for years. He could easily have said, “Here’s what we do: we develop our current energy sources, even unconventional ones like the tar sands and the oil shale. We ramp up fracking and natural gas development, and we use that energy to transition to a cleaner economy.” Somewhere along the way, that first part got chopped off, no doubt to the chagrin of tar sands and oil shale lobbyists. And while this tragically leaves fracking at the center of his approach, the absence of support for unconventional fuels development may finally “put to rest” any lingering hope U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. and fellow oil shale start-ups may have for ever turning a profit.



 June 25, 2013  Posted by at 1:45 pm Impending US Tar Sands operations, Inspirational Tagged with: , ,
Mar 282013

Actions against tar sands profiteers are ramping up in the US. Last week, there were over 55 actions across the country. For more info visit our friends at TarSandsBlockade.org.

For Immediate Release

Click here to read the Press Release

March 26, 2013

Living Rivers & Colorado Riverkeeper

Before It Starts www.beforeitstarts.org

John Weisheit – 435-259-1063; 435-260-2590; john@livingrivers.org

Ashley Anderson – 801- 652-2971; ashley@beforeitstarts.org

Investors Beware: Utah’s Tar Sand Deposits are Duds

MOAB, UT – The Record of Decision issued March 22nd by the Bureau of Land Management concerning the development of TAR SANDS in Utah states the following on page 40:

“[t]his resource is not, at present, a proven commercially viable energy source, and the BLM would like to obtain more information about environmental consequences associated with its development prior to committing to broad-scale commercial development.”

Activists opposing the development, processing, and refining of Utah’s TAR SANDS emphatically concur with this statement. It is well documented in the geologic literature that the majority of the deposits in Utah will require steam injection to liberate the bitumen (“tar”), in order for this viscous oil to be pumped to the surface for further refining (in-situ). Vast amounts of water will be required for this proposed industry and in the second driest state in the USA (preceded by Nevada).

“Aquifers will be depleted before there is any investment return and depletions of surface water from the Colorado River and its tributaries will be fiercely litigated because current demand outstrips the supply,” says John Weisheit, conservation director of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper.

The Energy Return on Investment (EROI) for in-situ extraction is, under the best of circumstances, 2 to 1, according to respected energy analysts from the USA. Additionally, analysts from Canada place the EROI of steam injection at 1 to 1. For comparison, the EROI for the global oil and gas industry is 10 to 1.

However, there are tar sand deposits near the surface in some localities such as the PR Spring deposit in the Tavaputs Plateau of east-central Utah. It has been speculated that these deposits could be strip-mined and processed on site with just hot water and solvents to liberate the bitumen. Lack of water, none-the-less, is still the #1 heartache of industry speculators such as US Oil Sands, Inc., which is based in Calgary, Alberta. US Oil Sands has leased 30,000 acres from the state of Utah that it considers worthy of strip mining.

Investors must understand that this ore deposit near the surface is by no means a bonanza. The near surface deposits are lens-shaped deposits that have an average thickness of 27 feet and the deposits are interuppted and isolated by a series of incised canyons. The average depth of the overburden and intraburden (rocks with no economic value) is 124 feet. The general standard for economic return is a ratio of waste rock to ore is 2 to 1. In this case the ratio is an exorbitant 5 to 1.

“The strip-mining proposed by US Oil Sands will become the grave of their business. When they declare bankruptcy, the citizens of Utah will have the responsibility to reclaim their damage to the last remaining wild place of the contiguous USA,” says Ashley Anderson, co-founder of Before It Starts.

Potential investors should do at least these three things:

1) Ask USOS what it would cost the company to be shut down unexpectedly for a full day of operation, and write that amount down.

2) Take a moment and visit some search engines. Look up Keystone XL pipeline protests and mass arrests, which were organized in part by Utah activists. An ever-growing number of people are now blockading construction of the pipeline in multiple states. The CEO of Enbridge said “We are facing a very strong, almost revolutionary movement.”

3) Write down how many days you think USOS can be stopped by a continental movement and multiply those two numbers together.

Now ask yourself, is it worth it?”

Supplemental information:

Table One

Analyses of drill records available to the public within a two mile radius of US Oil Sands proposed strip mining project.

Depth below surface for this analysis is 150 feet (as per submitted application).

Standard: uneconomical if ratio of ore to waste is over 1 to 2

Reference: Horn, George H., 1967. Open File Report on PR Spring-Roan Cliffs, Grand County and Southern Uintah
Counties. USGS.

Table Two

Analyses of drill records available to the public on an 8-mile
transect along the Divide Ridge Road.

For more info on US tar sands, follow us on Facebook & Twitter

For photos of the first proposed tar sands site in the US, PR Spring, visit our Flickr

For updates for our friends an allies in Salt Lake, please visit PeacefulUprising.org & Utah Tar Sands Resistance


Supplemental information: See Tables One & Two below

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 11.45.33 AM

Mar 162013

The Tavaputs Plateau, which is slated to be strip-mined for tar sands, can be seen on the horizon. The photo was taken from Professor Valley near Moab, Utah. The Colorado River is visible.


Two years of litigation by Living Rivers (our parent nonprofit,) Colorado Riverkeeper and Western Resource Advocates has so far  prevented the development of a proposed strip mining operation for tar sands. If U.S. Oil Sands Inc., (USOS) prevails in court, this operation would become the first large-scale mining project for the processing of tar sands in the USA. In Utah, 570,000 acres have been identified for potential exploitation of this dirty fuel.

PR Springs is located on the East Tavaputs Plateau in east-central Utah. The elevation is about 8,100 feet. The higher elevations of the Tavaputs remain roadless and meet the criteria of the Wilderness Act.

PR Springs is a watershed divide for three rivers: White, Green And Colorado. All are tributaries of the Colorado river, which supplies water to over 30 million people in the Western United States. The landscape is a mixed forest of fir, pine, juniper and oak, and is essentially old growth. The animal life is abundant and includes: deer, elk, bear, bison, turkey, grouse, owls, hawks and eagles.

The proposed operation will deforest the Tavaputs, obliterate the near-surface aquifers, and completely consume the ground-water at depth.

The corporation is required to salvage the topsoil and re vegetate the abandoned waste pits, but the disturbance will be too massive and the soil cover too thin to generate a robust recovery. Wind and intense thunderstorms will remove the topsoil and the area is destined to become a wasteland of rubble. 

Continue reading »

 March 16, 2013  Posted by at 4:11 pm Impending US Tar Sands operations
Mar 162013

Today, activists from Grand County, Utah dropped a banner from a large boulder along the route of a popular annual half-marathon that read:  ”TAR SANDS ARE COMING / UNLESS WE STOP IT / BEFORE IT STARTS.ORG”

This direct action is in concert with a” week of action against tar sands profiteers”, called for by Tar Sands Blockade.

Detail of banner dropped off a huge rock along the route of  an annual half-marathon

Detail of banner dropped off a huge rock along the route of an annual half-marathon


Over 5000 runners will have seen the banner by the time of this posting. The road will open for public traffic by Saturday afternoon. The banner remains in place for now.

The drop was conceived of and carried out by activists from Canyon Country Rising Tide, Before it Starts, and individuals who came together during a series of events in Moab, Utah–including a conversation with Canadian Indigenous Elder Francois Paulette and a teach-in / strategy discussion–which had been planned and hosted by Before It Starts.

Tar sands mining in Canada is the largest and most destructive industrial project in the history of our planet.  The U.S.A. could soon become another home for this kind of mining. The most immediate threat comes from U.S. Oil Sands, Inc, which plans to begin operations this year in an area just 60 miles from where the banner drop (pictured below) took place.  [Read the details about US Oil Sands' operation]

Hundreds of marathon-goers pass a banner alerting them to the threat of tar sands mining in the area they enjoy.

Hundreds of marathon-goers pass a banner alerting them to the threat of tar sands mining in the area they enjoy.

“The proposed strip mining, processing, shipping, and refining of tar sands in Utah threatens the wild character of this landscape that we love. It would pollute our air, water, and further contribute to catastrophic climate change. I for one am not about to let one of the most destructive industrial processes on earth come to Grand County without a fight,” said one activist.

Come to a meeting, spread the word, hang a banner, plan a direct action.
Check out www.beforeitstarts.org to get involved. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, as well.

Using Tarsands produces 2-4 more times carbon dioxide than conventional oil.

The mining and processing of Tarsands requires as much or more energy as it produces in the end. This extra energy input comes from either fracked natural gas or nuclear power- both of which we also oppose.

 March 16, 2013  Posted by at 1:47 pm Actions, Impending US Tar Sands operations Tagged with: , ,
Jan 232013

How Colorado River water is divided up between the states and Mexico is established on a piece of paper called The Colorado River Compact. Most people refer to it as “The Law of the River.”

The river is divided into two basins: upper and lower. The division is located at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona.

1) The upper basin gets 7.5 million acre feet (MAF)
2) The lower basin gets 7.5 MAF
3) Mexico gets 1.5 MAF.

The total promise on paper to these “users” is 16.5 MAF.

The average annual yield (based on a 106-year instrument record) for the Colorado River at Lee’s Ferry is 15.0 MAF.

In the last 50 years the yield has dropped to 14.5 MAF

Right now there is a 2.5 million MAF deficit between demand and supply.

In 2050 the annual yield will be 13.7 MAF.

So the water Utah has is based on an illusionary piece of paper.

Until the paper is changed to reflect reality, Utah has the right to develop water for tar sands and whatever else.

Only the seven states can challenge this in court. Only the US Supreme Court can hear the case. (Interstate Commerce Law).

If a state took this matter to the Supreme Court, the court would say: “Look, you seven idiots. Obviously you don’t understand simple arithmetic very well. The order of the court is to lower your demand immediately. Now get the [bleep] out of my courtroom. (It would actually take 10-years of discovery to get to a final ruling.)

The case will never get to the Supreme Court. The states are not foolish. Well, yes they are, but you know what I mean.

So revising the piece of paper will not happen anytime soon. Congress could make that happen, but a national crisis would have to happen first to justify whatever action they might take.

Thus Utah has lot’s of water, even though it is illusionary water.

Remember, the United States of America is not a country, it’s a business.

 January 23, 2013  Posted by at 12:48 pm Impending US Tar Sands operations, Resources Tagged with: , ,
Jan 152013

Contents: (Jump to on page)


Oil shale and tar sands remains a speculative industry in the arid lands of the Colorado Plateau. A general lack of water is why the industry will never be viable. Even if alternative chemical washes are used to separate bitumen from sand, for example, it still requires 1.5 to 2 barrels of water to refine a single barrel of oil. What this extraction will accomplish is physical damage to the Colorado River watershed, which supplies culinary water to nearly 30 million people. It will also create more CO2 in the atmosphere, which is the #1 killer of the Rocky Mountain snowpack, which provides 85% of the Colorado River’s total annual water supply. Our watershed needs investors to create a reliable energy supply that will heal the water supply of the Colorado River, not destroy it.

Continue reading »

Jan 142013

[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.

Utahns protest outside the Annual Governors Energy Development Summit.

Utahns protest outside the Annual Governors Energy Development Summit.

One company in particular, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc., bore the brunt of the protesters concerns–and direct actions.

Close-up of the label on dozens of water bottles passed out during the 2012 Governor's Energy Development  Summit

Close-up of the label on dozens of water bottles passed out during the 2012 Governor’s Energy Development Summit (click for an even closer look)

Anderson proudly distributing "biodegradable carcinogens"

Anderson proudly distributing “biodegradable carcinogens”

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.

standing card placed on tables for the Governors luncheon

standing card placed on tables for the Governors luncheon

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. Table Cards


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.


Jan 142013
Last Friday I had the opportunity to address a room full of eager tar sands and oil shale developers, state government energy officials, and at least one state Senator. It was the last “Unconventional Fuels” breakout session at the Governors Energy Development Summit in Salt Lake City, Utah.  The topic of the breakout seemed to be “Whining about the National Environmental Protection Act and Those That Dare Oppose the Fossil Fuel Industry.” From where I was sitting in the back,  it was a sea of shiny, balding white scalps looking up at some shiny, balding white foreheads. They should have passed out sun glasses. Anyway,
There was one environmentalist on the panel. Rob Dubuc, an attorney with Western Resource Advocates (who represents my organizations parent nonprofit Living Rivers in legal challenges to U.S. Oil Sands’ mining permits), had the guts to get up and say “I know I’m in Utah, and a lot of you don’t believe in climate change, but a lot of people, including the protesters you’ve been seeing, do believe in climate change, and they have the resources to really get in your way, so you should listen to what they have to say.”
Nice, man. I clapped. And posted on the social networks. But, what DID we have to say? I wasn’t planning on speaking, but I couldn’t leave it hanging like that. Since I was there alone, and no one was recording, I now only remember what I was trying to say. The following contains the sentiment, with “ums” and sentence fragments removed:
“I think there’s a misconception that those who are opposed to the development of unconventional fuels are a willfully blind minority. That we’re a nuisance that just gets in the way. It could seem like that in Utah or in rooms like this. The truth is, we are in the vast majority of critically thinking laypeople, and choose to follow the advice of those who are experts in climate and weather, and whose careers depend upon performing unbiased analysis and reaching defensible conclusions.
The people in this room want to make money by feeding oil into the oil-based economic engine. Makes sense. Someone’s going to do it–might as well be you. So I think it’s fair to say that if the economy were solar, wind, and geothermal energy-based, you’d likely be trying to make money in that industry. Why isn’t this the case? Because the fossil fuel industry is good at keeping change at bay.
If we seem to be obstructionists using NEPA to sabotage honest entrepreneurs because we love trees and sage grouse, I’d encourage you to think again. We are concerned about the impacts that climate change will have on our children and the global ecosystem that you rely upon as much as we do–and we are disillusioned by the lack of leadership in our state and federal governments to incentivize you to seek your riches in less deadly ways.
No matter how “green” your new approaches to these resources might be relative to techniques used in the past, by participating in the development of unconventional fossil fuels, you are taking a leading role in the expansion of the fossil fuel industry. You must destroy land, water, and air to create profit for your shareholders.

Unlike many of you, we are not seeking opportunity for ourselves.

At the core of our misunderstanding, you mistake our deep sense of responsibility and determination with unreasonableness.
Feel free to comment if you thing I left something out. And send an email while you’re here, for pete’s sake.