Jul 252013
blockade practice

[Jump to: Part Two: Downstream Community Leadership Training]

From Thursday, July 18 to Sunday, July 21, people from diverse communities and backgrounds gathered in Moab, Utah to organize a grassroots resistance to proposed tar sands and oil shale mining operations , as well as  a proposed nuclear power plant within the upper Colorado river watershed.

Bill McKibben and moderator Christy Williams

Bill McKibben  indroduced by moderator Christy Williams  before panel Thursday’s discussion (Photo: Lee Gelat)

Participants from  “downstream communities”, including the Fort Mojave Indian Reservation in southern California; the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona; Pheonix, Arizona; as well as Moab and Castle Valley, Utah, came together for both a lecture/panel discussion and later, an immersive two-day nonviolent direct action training workshop.

The gathering began on Thursday with a public discussion in the auditorium at Grand County High School. Topics varied, but the central theme of the night was regarding the importance of grassroots organizing in addressing the climate crisis. Speakers included David Harper, Traditional Spokesperson for the Fort Mojave Indian Tribe of the Colorado River Indian Tribes; Bradley Angel, Executive Director of Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice; John Weisheit, Conservation Director of Living Rivers and the Colorado Riverkeeper of the Waterkeepers Alliance; Kate Finneran, Co-director of Before it Starts; and Bill McKibben, co-founder of the international organization 350.org and bestselling author of the End of Nature. The evening was moderated by Moab local Christy Williams, Programming Director at KZMU 90.1 & 106.7 FM and former Moab City Council member. The event was organized by Moab-based nonprofit Before It Starts, which is dedicated stopping proposed massive tar sands and oil shale projects in the United States by activating a national resistance, led and informed by frontline communities.

With a little help from the audience, BeforeitStarts.org Co-Founder Ashley Anderson is blockaded inside the auditorium. (Photo Lee Gelat)

With a little help from the audience, BeforeitStarts.org Co-Founder Ashley Anderson is blockaded inside the auditorium. (Photo Lee Gelat)

Kate Finneran of beforeitstarts.org talked about her background working on mountaintop removal issues as National Field Organizer for Appalachian Voices, and why she came to settle in Moab.

Event organizer and Before It Starts Co-Director Kate Finneran greeting folks at the door  before her speech.

Event organizer and Before It Starts Co-Director Kate Finneran greeting folks at the door before her speech.

Bradley Angel spoke about the threat posed by a planned nuclear power plant on the Green river (primary tributary of the Colorado River), and closed by pointing out that it is important to talk about health when working on movement building to address climate change, because health is a concern we all share, and impacts all people equally regardless of background. Read more about Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice here.

John Weisheit, whom is responsible for the litigation which has prevented tar sands and oil shale mining for over ten years, pointed out that he was very grateful, because “three years ago, there was no activism around the tar sands and oil shale, except for the lawsuits brought by my organization and our lawyers. It’s encouraging beyond words to see groups like Before it Starts, Canyon Country Rising Tide, Peaceful Uprising, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and now even 350.org and other local and international groups jumping in to form a true grassroots direct-action resistance.”

David Harper talked about the importance of spiritual health in our activism and asked, “Where is our [communities along the Colorado river] movement? Maybe this is the beginning”

Clockwise from top left: Bradley Angel, John Weisheit, Bill McKibben, David Harper (Logan Hansen Photography)

Clockwise from top left: Bradley Angel, John Weisheit, Bill McKibben, David Harper (Logan Hansen Photography)

Bill McKibben took the stage (sitting on the edge of it, actually) and spoke about the emerging people-led movement to combat the climate crisis. He spoke about the fact that tar sands and oil shale mining at the scale we’re looking at in Utah not only destroys the land and pollutes the water for 30 million people, but represents a threat to all people everywhere for the carbon it would release into the atmosphere. (Recoverable tar sands and oil shale deposits in the region represent nearly a trillion barrels of fossil fuels, far more than is currently being mined in Alberta, Canada) “It’s important for people everywhere to rise up and oppose any fossil fuel industry projects that would contribute to climate change,” Bill said.

“People ask me all the time, ‘Bill, do you think we can win? Do you think it is too late to avert complete climate disaster?’ And I have to tell them, ‘I don’t know if it is too late. I don’t know if we’ll be able to turn it around in time, but if the last four years have taught me anything, it’s that we aren’t going down without a fight.’”

From left, Bradley Angel, Bill McKibben, John Weisheit, Kate Finneran, Christy Williams, and David Harper. (Photo: Lee Gelat)

From left, Bradley Angel, Bill McKibben, John Weisheit, Kate Finneran, Christy Williams, and David Harper. (Photo: Lee Gelat)

More photos of the event by Lee Gelat

Part Two:  Downstream Community Leadership Training

July 20, 21, Moab Arts and Recreation Center and Swanny City Park, Moab, Utah

The DCLT was part of more than a week of complementary events and activities taking place in various locations in eastern Utah, all of which are designed to educate, activate, and empower activists and non-activists alike; to bring communities from both the front lines of imminent industrial development in the area, such as tar sands/oil shale mining, and a proposed nuclear power plant, together with concerned people from around the country. The DCLT offered a two-day nonviolent direct action 101 training with a focus on communities in the Colorado river bioregion, which offered an alternative for folks who cannot attend the more immersive and in-depth five-day Canyon Country Action Camp, which will take place on the shores of the Green River from July 24-28. (Click to support the camp and help us reach our fundraising goal.)

The morning began at the Moab Arts and Recreation center with breakfast and coffee. After that, John Weisheit of Living Rivers led a 20-minute introduction to three specific watershed threats: tar sands and oil shale mining, and a proposed nuclear power plant. John pointed out that the main reason behind building a nuclear power plant on the Green river was not to supply power to “the grid”, as it’s proponents claim, but rather, to run the infrastructure that would be necessary for tar sands and oil shale mining in the nearby Tavaputs Plateau.

John Weisheit, Colorado Riverkeeper and Conservation Director of environmental nonprofit Living Rivers

John Weisheit, Colorado Riverkeeper and Conservation Director of environmental nonprofit Living Rivers

Another important point that John brought up is that the “oil” being sought in the region through mining tar sands and oil shale wasn’t even for use in vehicles, rather, that it would be turned into low-grade diesel which powers cargo ships and products like paint thinner. “It won’t alleviate gas prices and will not reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”

John’s presentation concluded with a question from a participant: “I guess I just don’t understand the other side. I mean, these tar sands and oil shale projects seem like such a risky proposition, and they are so filthy and dangerous, and the lack of water, and now this resistance, not to mention climate change…why do these people [the executives at U.S. Oil Sands and the other start-ups seeking investment capital to begin mining] do this? Why are they pursuing this business?”

“Because they are speculators and they have no conscience.” More background information: Tar Sands | Oil Shale | Green River Nuclear Power Plant | U.S. Oil Sands

Next up was Bradley Angel from Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice and David Harper Traditional Spokesperson for the Mojave Tribe of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, to talk about non-violent direct action. Instead of a lecture about definitions and abstract history, Bradley used multimedia, including television news clips, to illustrate examples from his direct experience advocating for environmental justice during the last 15 years. Examples of victories can be found here.

Bradley Angel giving examples of nonviolent direct action and environmental justice

Bradley Angel giving examples of nonviolent direct action and environmental justice

The presentation included a screening of “Defending the Sacred”, a documentary about the remarkable 113-day occupation of Ward Valley, which was ultimately successful in defeating the US government’s plan to use sacred Indian lands a dumping ground for nuclear waste. It is a remarkable story about frontline communities and activists from outside the area working together to achieve an unlikely victory.

Watching "Defending the Sacred"

Watching “Defending the Sacred”

Bradley also gave examples from other successful campaigns to stop industrial polluters, which were supported by Greenaction but led by the communities directly involved. (Instead of the other way around, as is often the case with environmental organizations.)

After lunch, we circled up the chairs in the adjacent meeting space and local-international organizer/activist Celia Alario facilitated as the group layed out some ground rules to guide the rest of the training.

After that, a go-around of brief introductions revealed the surprising diversity of people that had gathered together for the weekend. There were retirees from Castle Valley and Moab, some recalling their experiences protesting the Vietnem war; a group of students from the University of Colorado at Boulder, who were on a weeks-long trek around the Southwest to learn about environmental justice issues with a program called INVST –many of whom were eager to experience direct action training for the first time, and some of whom had been active in Occupy; a group of young activists from the Gila River Indian Community, a couple of whom were living in Phoenix, some of whom had already been involved in acts of civil disobedience and/or Occupy Phoenix. Two were rising hip-hop artists from Shining Soul who gave us a surprise an awesome a Capella show later on; and more. [update: the author was just informed that 2/3 of Requiem participated in the training. Check it out!]

An example of simple ground rules for a nonviolent direct action training. (Celia Alario facilitated this portion)

An example of simple ground rules for a nonviolent direct action training. (Celia Alario facilitated this portion)

Alex and Franco, aka the duo from Shining Soul perform  at the end of day one http://shiningsoul-music.blogspot.com/

Alex and Franco, aka the duo from Shining Soul perform a cappela on day one http://shiningsoul-music.blogspot.com/

After that, we did an exercise called the “Spectrogram”. The facilitators put up four signs on the four walls of a room, with signs reading “effective” and “not effective” opposite each other, and “violent” and “non-violent” completing the other axis. Participants are given scenarios and asked to stand in the room nearest the coordinates that agree with their opinion. For example, “burning the US flag” would be a given prompt, and participants who thought it violent would go to that side of the room, but perhaps on the “not effective” side. After people take their positions, the facilitators go around and let attendees expound on why they chose the place they did. Participants who hear something that changes their perspective can change their position in the room.

The "Spectrogram" exercise  is very engaging, and always seems to go longer than planned. Which is great!

The “Spectrogram” exercise is very engaging, and always seems to go longer than planned. Which is great!

The final exercise of the day was something called “hassle lines”, where the group forms two lines, each person across from someone else, and are given scenarios where one person is agitated and the other practices calming them down. It is intended to provide skills in “de-escalation”, and it can get pretty animated!

Day two

Day two began at Swanny City Park with plenty of sunshine, breakfast and coffee.  Participation grew to include parents who brought their young children.

breakfast at the park

breakfast at the park

Amanda Starbuck, an organizer from Rainforest Action Network with extensive experience in direct action training and planning (and friend of Before it Starts) traveled from San Fransisco as a volunteer to lead the morning’s workshops.

Amanda Starbuck on roles in a direct action

Amanda Starbuck on roles in a direct action

Amanda opened by inviting participants to share stories and experiences with direct actions and civil disobedience.

We then split into two groups and were asked to form a “blockade”, or a human barrier that would stop a theoretical truck from continuing on a road. Participants were intentionally given no preparation time, which led to an in-depth discussion and lesson on the different roles activists take when preparing for and carrying out direct actions like this.


Kate and Bradley demonstrated a device called a “lock box”, which is sometimes used to chain protesters together, making it more difficult for authorities to remove them.

dave harper approaching one of two groups roleplaying a blockade

Dave Harper approaching one of two groups role-playing a blockade

Following the lesson on roles, participants were given another hypothetical scenario in which they were forming a blockade to prevent equipment which would be essential for commencing strip-mining operations from reaching a mine site. Many folks had a part to play, some acting as law enforcement, hostile television reporters, and so on. David Harper played a very convincing truck driver who was being interrupted just trying to do his job. It was a lot of fun.

After lunch we went back for two lessons from Amanda Starbuck: challenging corporate power and “knowing your legal rights” in an action scenario. She also talked about one of Rainforest Action Network’s current campaigns, which includes a “Pledge of Resistance” against the KeystoneXL pipeline (if it is approved by President Obama). Over 70,000 people around the country have already taken the pledge, which can be found here. 


The last activity was an exercise borrowed and adapted from the 99% Spring Training Guide, in which we practiced refining our personal stories of who we are, what we are struggling against, and what we want the future to look like. Groups of four were formed (with people that hadn’t spent much time interacting grouped together) to write out their stories, then share them with the rest, then, as a group, discuss the commonalities they observed. They then filled in the blanks: We are _____, ____, and _____, and we struggle with _____, _____, and _____, and we want a future where _______, ______, and ______. The groups then sent representatives up to the front to present their statement, which was written down with all the others on a single piece of butcher-block paper. After that, we “mic-checked” the entire statement.

(Unfortunately, the group from the Gila River Indian Community had to leave right before this exercise, but they promised to complete it later and send us what they came up with so we can add it to the document) 

The three days of speakers and workshops ended with a feedback session. Participants suggested that we do more media training, that we do the last exercise first next time, and that overall, it was empowering and fun, and that they were truly glad that they came. One comment that came up multiple times was that “At first I was nervous, but it’s been so encouraging to meet other people that want to do something. I feel like I am ready to take more action.”

The organizers were grateful that a self-motivated community of activists had taken shape, and look forward to working with these individuals for a long time to come.

Click here for information, updates and ways to spport the Canyon Country Action Camp near Green River, Utah

Join Before it Starts

Contact: ashley@beforeitstarts or kate@beforeitstarts

 July 25, 2013  Posted by at 10:47 am Events, Uncategorized
Apr 182013


by The Roadshow Crew

The air is thin up here at 8,000 feet. I’m sitting near the site of the first tar sands mine in the country, P.R. Springs. The sun’s strength diminishes as it approaches the western horizon–snow capped mountains behind layer after layer of high desert ridges.  Somewhere in those folds, the Green River tumbles though Desolation Canyon. I can hear a wild turkey gobble every now and again. The land continues to rise to the south. From that ridge I can make out the La Sals pointing me home, surrounded by miniature Fisher and Adobe Mesas. I could see a large crack in the rock that must be the almighty Colorado rushing through Horsetheif and Westwater. I could even make out the Abajos, Arches National Park, and Grand Junction lighting up for the evening. We saw 24 elk grazing on the ridge. Down below, between the Colorado River and Book Cliffs, is the Cisco desert and the I-70 corridor, fast becoming home to industrial development – evaporation ponds, a waste-water injection well, new home to the Atlas uranium tailings pile, a proposed nuclear power plant, a proposed tar sands refinery.

US Oil Sands test pit at PR Springs

US Oil Sands test pit at PR Springs

From up on top of the incredible Tavaputs Plateau, which sits upon an even greater Colorado Plateau, I am struck with how preposterous it seems that Uintah County is so removed from people’s realities in Grand County. From this vantage point, it is quite obvious that that all this destruction and pollution from fracking, oil, gas, and now tar sands and oil shale is just upstream and is wrapped in a grand plan that involves all of canyon country. My heart weighs heavy after this visit to the mine site. The buoyant notion that logical thinking leaves in me is slowly deflating. “It’s uneconomical, disastrous for the climate, technology is unproven, there’s not enough water”…Well, they’re paving the way quickly and surely.

This road construction stops right at the PR Springs tar sands mine

This road construction stops right at the PR Springs tar sands mine

The drive from the north was sickening. First Roosevelt and Vernal filled with fracking headquarters, brine mixing stations, chemical distributors, giant trucks toting gas and contaminated (or soon to be) water. Then, mile after mile of freshly paved highway through a freshly scarred landscape crisscrossed with pipelines and polka dotted with well pads. The road turned to grated dirt and signs of construction started to pop up. An empty bulldozer sat next to a newly blazed corridor through a hillside. Mile after mile of mangled old growth junipers and pinons lay dead on their sides. We passed small crews operating gigantic road eating machines. Why would they need a road over 100 feet wide? The four lanes lead right to PR Springs and the Red Leaf Resources oil shale operation. Are Uintah County tax payers paying for this? The upgrade of the high-speed, four-lane trucking route stops right at the county line. Are they anticipating that Grand County will continue the Book Cliffs highway and connect it to the planned energy infrastructure along I-70? Or are they content to truck everything to Salt Lake, already filled with industry’s toxic breath?

Seep Ridge Road Construction. Upgrading a dirt road to a four lane, high speed, trucking route.

Seep Ridge Road Construction. Upgrading a dirt road to a four lane, high speed, trucking route.

We hiked all over the drainage system just below the already huge tar sands “test pit.” The canyons are filled with elk trails, pinon, juniper, ponderosas, and Douglas Fir. Around all the seeps and springs we found groves of aspens and often abandon ranch structures. Water was flowing at some point in every drainage we checked.  US Oil Sands and the state engineer seem to agree that the PR Springs mine site has negligible ground water and thus water pollution cannot be a cause for concern. Getting baseline data for water quality in the area will be essential in this fight. A biologist accompanied us along the hike, counting and pointing out red tail hawks, flickers, chickadees, bluebirds, and starting an inventory of species.

Main Canyon, just below the tar sands test pit.

Main Canyon, just below the tar sands test pit.

We stumbled upon spots around the ridge that had been deforested already for various core samples and wells. In some places, the earth and vegetation had already been scraped off to expose the tar sands. They gray gritty cakes of tar and sand were hard in the cold spring air, very much like a crumbling parking lot buried just below the surface. P.R. Springs has some of the most accessible deposits.

Tar Sands Deposits at PR Springs

Tar Sands Deposits at PR Springs

Excitement and foreboding course through my veins. This fight is much bigger than stopping just one tar sands mine. It’s about also stopping oil shale, corporate manipulation of our public process, and the continued expansion of the extreme energy empire. We’re here, we’re everywhere, and we’re growing in strength. We believe a better way is possible and that the continued exploitation of these fossil fuels is destroying our ability to cope with the needed transition. Extreme energy extraction will no longer be tolerated. The costs are simply too high.

View of the drainage just below the test pit. If allowed to expand, US Oil sands would likely dump all of the "overburden" from mining into this canyon. Industry's term for this is "valley fill."

View of the drainage just below the test pit. If allowed to expand, US Oil sands would likely dump all of the “overburden” from mining into this canyon. Industry’s term for this is “valley fill.”

This tar sands mine was abandoned in 1983, unreclaimed. US Oil Sands has yet to pay their 1.6 million dollar reclamation bond and yet they are already deforesting and strip mining a test pit.

This tar sands mine was abandoned in 1983, unreclaimed. US Oil Sands has yet to pay their 1.6 million dollar reclamation bond and yet they are already deforesting and strip mining a different test pit.

On the Banks of the Green River where industry trucks come to fill up water and brine mix.

On the Banks of the Green River where industry trucks come to fill up water and brine mix.

Fracking Rig outside of Vernal

Fracking Rig outside of Vernal

 April 18, 2013  Posted by at 12:31 pm Uncategorized
Apr 102013

Tar sands strip mines are about to tear into the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah unless a grassroots movement can stop them before it starts.  And we’re building that movement right now.

The Utah Tar Sands Roadshow is an educational presentation and listening project about the imminent threat posed by tar sands and oil shale extraction in Utah.  This week the Roadshow has traveled from the bottom to the top of Utah bringing people together to share stories and experience about how to stop these extreme extraction projects.

The Roadshow is funded by people like you. We are six days away from the end of our fundraising drive and we need your help. Make a donation today to support ongoing grassroots movement building. 

So what are you supporting?

After a teach-in at Sky View High School, the students recorded a solidarity message to the people of Manchester, TX, who are fighting against Valero’s tar sands refineries.  The students were compelled to make this message because they too are having their air threatened by tar sands refineries proposed for the Wasatch Front.


At a church gathering in Logan, a dairy worker still in his work clothes mapped out the hunting and fishing groups we should get in touch with.  “They love the Book Cliffs and they’ll fight this mine.”

Though some members of the crowd were veterans of Utah land struggles, everyone was surprised at how quickly and quietly this project had been pushed through.  While there were many ideas how to engage this fight, everyone agreed about two things: the tar sands must be stopped and that we have to get more people involved.

Last week at an Idle No More rally in Cedar City, we shared our story and listened to Navajo elders’ stories about their fight to protect sacred lands in the Grand Canyon. In Provo, we supported the Utah Valley Dream Team in their campaign against private prisons and deportation.  Showing up to support these other struggles is part of building intersections between grassroots movements.  What binds our struggles together is a common enemy: corporations trying to profit from land grabs, extreme extraction, and mass incarceration.  These struggles are also linked because our task is to build grassroots power to challenge the rule of a small few that are dictating an increasingly dire future.

For more information about the Utah tar sands and to stay tuned for more updates from the Roadshow, check out beforeitstarts.org.

Also, save the date! July 21-28, Utah will be hosting a direct action camp to escalate resistance to tar sands and oil shale exploitation.  More details soon…

With grit and backbone,

The Roadshow Crew


 April 10, 2013  Posted by at 1:17 pm Rodshow, Uncategorized 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

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. 
Jan 112013

Guest post by Melanie Martin

Utah has enormous potential for growing its renewable energy capabilities, like wind and solar. However, Governor Herbert works hard to create a “business-friendly environment” for the dirtiest industries, including tar sands and oil shale—the most destructive of all. Governor Herbert is trying to seize hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands for tar sands and oil shale mining, so our friends at Utah Tar Sands Resistance seized the stage at his energy summit to award him the Polluter of the Year award.

Jul 092012

On May 20, 2009 the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (UDOGM) approved a plan of operations by an Alberta, Canada mining company called Earth Energy Resources (EER) to commence the strip mining of tar sands (bitumen) in the Uinta Basin of the Colorado Plateau.

STATUS: The application to begin mining operations has been challenged by Living Rivers and their attorneysWestern Resource Advocates. The application for a Conditional Use Permit from Grand County has yet to be submitted by EER.

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