After Elders, Activists Camp 5 Yrs. in Wilderness at Experimental Utah Tar Sands Mine, Company Buckles, Files Bankruptcy

(EnviroNews Utah) — Vernal, Utah — The following video report emanates from a demonstration at the PR Springs tar sands test site on the Tavaputs Plateau in late September of 2017. The transcript reads as follows:

Emerson Urry (Narrating): In a remarkable turn of events in late September, grandmas and grandpas in rocking chairs, expecting to be gaffled up by the county sheriff for blockading the entrance to an experimental tar sands mine in northeastern Utah, instead found themselves in celebration, after it was announced the corporation behind the project was placed in receivership just days earlier. Receivership is a Canadian designation similar to a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States.

The company, sneakily named US Oil Sands, isn’t from the U.S. at all. It’s actually a Canadian enterprise funded with foreign money, and it was placed in receivership, after squandering another chunk of cash — $2.5 million, taken from its primary shareholder, Luxembourg-based ACMO S.à.r.l., this past June.

The demonstration harbored members from several groups including, Elders Rising, Canyon Country Rising Tide, Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Wasatch Rising Tide. The coalition travelled over three hours from Salt Lake City to protest against the project and was pleased to wind up celebrating freely — instead of sitting in a jail cell.

Local EnviroNews Utah was able to catch up with this dedicated entourage of elders in their hotel rooms the night before they headed up to the mine site – and when asked about their motivations, one theme came up repeatedly.

Ken Kohler: Well, for me, it’s my two grandsons. I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and I look at those faces…

Linda Parsons: The system, for our children, for our grandchildren, it’s not going to work. It’s getting worse and worse. And it’s time… we can do it. Just like with climate change and dropping out of the Paris Accord. So what! Let’s do it ourselves.

Urry (Interviewing): What about you Joan [Gregory]. You’ve been at this for quite a few years now. I know you’ve been arrested several times as well. But, what drives you to keep coming out, putting your body on the line, putting your freedom on the line? What keeps bringing you back?

Joan Gregory: The same thing: my kids, my grandkids, their kids; all the children of this world that are suffering right now because of climate change.

Urry: Elise Lazar of Salt Lake City said part of her motivation was to put her life and freedom on the line so younger protestors wouldn’t have to.

Lazar: I’m part of Elders Rising because, I’m so proud that I was raised in the ’60s; so, I have activism in my bloodstream. But I feel badly for the young people, because none of them should be starting their lives, their families, their professional lives, with police records. So, I’m here [with] the rest of Elders Rising, to say: we are going to be on the forefront, and we are going to protect you. We want you to be activists, but if any anybody’s going to get arrested, it’s going to be us.

Urry: When most Americans think about tar sands, they think about this: the massive gooey bitumen strip mining operation in Alberta Canada – a project so large it has turned a swath of pristine nature the size of Florida in the Boreal Forest, into a barren eyesore, with little vegetation or wildlife remaining at all. But little do most people realize that on the Utah-Colorado border there’s around 25 times the amount of tar sands deposits than are present in Canada. And companies have been trying to figure out an economically viable way to get at it for decades.

Urry: Raphael Cordray and Lionel Trepanier are leaders with Utah Tar Sands Resistance – the group that spearheaded the ongoing encampment. The duo was all smiles at the news of US Oil Sands’ receivership announcement, and passed along knowledge to the visiting coalition of elders — information she’s accumulated while living at the site almost around the clock.

Cordray: The BLM, which is the Bureau of Land Management for the federal government, has identified 830,000 acres; it’s in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado, and this is near this area too. This land is [Utah] state land, but the federal government has identified this 830,000 acres that is available right now to lease for strip mining of oil shale and tar sands. So, that’s aside from these state-controlled lands that are available to be leased for oil shale and tar sands development. And it’s strip mining; it’s like mountaintop removal.

So, we see that they are starting… this is one of the first projects that they’re working on, and they’re going forward more on state lands because the standards for the regulation are even lower on our state lands than they are on the federal lands.

Urry: Members of Elders Rising also blasted the politics behind the nearly $90 million road that was paved to accommodate the now-defunct experiment.

Parsons: And that was our initial challenge, was we were going to stop the road. We thought we could really actually stop them from building the road.

Urry: Additionally, the group is concerned that the operation might now be picked up by either ACMO or some other enterprise willing to continue pumping cash into the unfruitful test.

Cordray: Here, why this is such a victory that they haven’t succeeded is because we see other companies are kind of waiting in the wings, watching for somebody to succeed at this, and then more companies would likely start leasing that acreage.

Excerpt 1 From 2013 EnviroNews Utah Documentary on US Oil Sands:

Shad Engkilterra (Narrating): This is the PR Springs tar sands test site of the Canadian company that carries the sneaky name of US Oil Sands.

Urry: EnviroNews Utah was the first news organization to run in-depth video reports on the Utah tar sands experiments – and it’s not only US Oil Sands that’s gone bust – nearly every oil sands test in the area has wound up bankrupt and floating in the wind – leaving ruinous messes in their wake with little in the way of cleanup or reclamation.

EnviroNews Utah also exposed the damage at one of these antiquated abandoned mine sites back in 2013, in a segment that left viewers stunned.

Excerpt 2 From 2013 EnviroNews Utah Documentary on US Oil Sands:

Engkilterra: The PR Springs situation isn’t the first time that companies have tried to strip mine for bitumen in the United States. Behind me is the Leonard Murphy “83” mine, an oil sands project that came online in the early ’80s.

Well, that little strip mining experiment didn’t go so well. The company is long gone and bankrupt, and 30 years later, it has undergone very little in the way of environmental reclamation as black goo continually oozes forth from the abandoned mess, killing chipmunks, mice, birds and more, slowly making its way down the canyon toward precious water supplies that provide for thousands of people in several sizable oilfield communities in the Uintah Basin.

Excerpt 3 From 2013 EnviroNews Utah Documentary on US Oil Sands:

Engkilterra: Here we are at the Leonard Murphy Mine where we were yesterday, and I couldn’t stand this place. There were three, well two dead chipmunks and a dead rat of some sort. You can see they’re clearly gone. There’s the remnants of one over there and here we have this poor little chipmunk dying in the tar sands. Now I am going to see if I can help him out and get him out of there.

Excerpt 4 From 2013 EnviroNews Utah Documentary on US Oil Sands:

Engkilterra: He’s still coated in tar. So I don’t know if that’s helpful; he still has tar all over his mouth and his face and his body, but I mean I just couldn’t leave him in there. I wish I had brought some solvent or something.

Let’s see if we can get that part off, that’s a big rocky part that was attached to his mouth, and it looks like his leg is broken here. So, unfortunately, I think that that’s probably the end.

But this place, I mean, I can’t stay here very long. My eyes are already starting to water. They’re burning. My nose is starting to get stuffy, which happened yesterday; I couldn’t spend more than 15 minutes, and there are some bigger tar pits down in the valley here, and if you watch, this tar flows all the way down through there and gets down into the valley and I am pretty sure it’s making its way down to the Green River.

Urry: Now, US Oil Sands takes its resting place in the graveyard of Utah tar sands debacles, less than a half a mile away from the old Leonard Murphy Mine, still oozing down the draw to this day. The question now: After poking around and strip mining the pristine Utah wilderness, will this now-defunct company carry out any remediation or restoration of the land at all?

Gregory: We are destroying the planet for the future. We’re supposed to be saving and protecting it for our kids, and for all future generations. That’s why we are together as elders for intergenerational justice.

Urry: Reporting for EnviroNews Utah, Emerson Urry.

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After Elders, Activists Camp 5 Yrs. in Wilderness at Experimental Utah Tar Sands Mine, Company Buckles, Files Bankruptcy