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: ,
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.