(EnviroNews Utah) — PR Springs, Utah — On Monday, July 23, 2014, a confrontation between police and environmental activists protesting tar sands development at PR Springs in Utah resulted in two people being injured and 21 people arrested. Between 70 and 80 protesters gathered at the sight of U.S. Oil Sands processing plant where the Canada-based company has started construction of its processing plant.
Activists chained themselves to equipment inside a chain link fence where it was being stored. They also locked themselves to the outside of the fence or sat down in the road. Their actions stopped work for between five and six hours according to spokesperson Jessica Lee.
According to a press release from Uinta County Sheriff’s Department (UCSD), officers arrived at about 6 a.m. At about 10:30 a.m., after asking the protesters to leave, law enforcement began making arrests including using bolt cutters to safely remove two of the protesters.
Lee states that the officers used intimidation tactics against the peaceful protesters. Among the responding force was one K-9 unit, which Lee says had its dog off leash — something that is only supposed to happen in life-threatening situations.
Undersheriff John Laursen of of the Uintah County Sheriff’s Department says the dog was let off leash “only to go to the bathroom,” and it was “never used at all toward” the demonstrators.
Of the two people injured, one was an independent journalist, who was detained and arrested by UCSD. Laursen says that he is unaware of any member of the press being detained or arrested.
The other was taken to the hospital and suffered a torn ligament according to Lee. Laursen says that the injury happened when the protester ran from the officers and got tangled up in some sage brush. Laursen performed first aid and took the person to the hospital.
The UCSD press release states that protesters have been charged with crimes ranging from “trespass on trust lands, Interference (sic) with an arresting officer and conspiracy to commit escape.” According to Lee, all of the people arrested have been released.
The protest was staged in response to the EPA’s June 12 notification that U.S. Oil Sands is working on Native American lands and needs to file for a different set of federal permits. An unrelated case against U.S. Oil Sands was tossed out by the Utah Supreme Court last month over a disputed technicality regarding a notice that the plaintiff’s did not file within the 30-day limit that was in effect. However, it is the position of Western Resource Advocates, and Living Rivers that a breech of protocol was committed when the Utah Division of Water Quality failed to make announcement of the approval of the state groundwater permit. It is expected that more legal actions will ensue in the near future.
“This campaign will continue,” says Lee. The show of force will not deter people from working against this project. “The fight to stop U.S. Oil Sands will continue.”
Laursen says that the UCSD had been monitoring the situation all week, and the protesters “were just doing what they wanted to do within reason.”
“We don’t mind if they have a protest as long as it’s peaceful,” says Laursen. “Everybody has rights on both sides.”
According to Laursen, the demonstration was peaceful and only got out of hand at the roadway where protesters blocked vehicles. Laursen says that officers were “ganged up on” and hit with fists, rocks and bottles.
Utah Tar Sands Resistance has established a permanent protest vigil at PR Springs, the site of the first U.S. tar sands mine. Protesters have worked on lawsuits, civil disobedience and public education campaigns including talking about the risks involved in what they see as a pillaging of the environment and a bad investment to boot.
You can see our entire documentary on Utah tar sands mining just below.