Opinion: Utah tar sands warrant consideration | PostIndependent.com

Opinion: Utah tar sands warrant consideration

Robyn Parker
Free Press Opinion Columnist

With the end of the school year quickly approaching, it’s a busy time for my favorite nonprofit organization, Desert Ecosystem Analysis and Restoration (DEAR). The group offers all sorts of activities like field trips and art projects to teach local students the importance of maintaining balanced ecosystems and protecting the environment.

Despite growing up in a community where 75 percent of the land is public, a national monument sits in our backyard, and BLM and Forest Service lands span for miles in every direction, it’s sad to realize how many kids have never heard of the Bookcliffs or stepped foot into Colorado National Monument.

DEAR volunteers always have to be ready to adjust their presentations to accommodate the needs of students who seem completely unfamiliar with the outdoors. It had never occurred to volunteers, for example, to explain to young adults that cactus spines are sharp until a hike last spring in which a teenager grabbed hold of a cactus plant. Another presentation had to be adjusted when students tossed their used baggies and bottles on the ground, insisting that plastic is biodegradable.

With people demonstrating so little concern for their surroundings and refusing to leave the comfort of homes and malls, it’s no wonder that polluters feel like they have free reign over our public lands. While the Keystone XL pipeline is garnering lots of news coverage, most of us probably have no idea what’s happening with the tar sands mining in Alberta, Canada, or that the same sort of development is slated for our own backyard.

Tar sands are produced through strip mining, which in Alberta has resulted in hundreds of thousands of acres of ancient forests being turned into a wasteland so vast it can be easily identified from space. Lakes of toxic sludge cover 176 square kilometers.

Greenhouse emissions from tar sands are three times greater than emissions from conventional oil, resulting in more pollution than some 85 countries combined. Plus, production of each barrel of oil from tar sands uses and pollutes four to 15 barrels of water. (http://www.desmogblog.com).

After 40 years of tar sands mining, not a single acre of forest land has been restored. Mercury, which is a byproduct of tar sands production, has so badly contaminated the surrounding forests that indigenous people can no longer consume the fish and wildlife they rely upon as a primary food source.

Unbeknownst to most, tar sand mining is making its way dangerously close to western Colorado. Just off the first exit from I-70 inside the Utah border stands a tar sands test site. It’s a pretty desolate area, which from a Utah map may look far from human habitation. The folks of Grand Junction would be wise to take notice however, since it’s connected to Mesa County.

As a test site, the mine at Utah’s P.R. Springs does not have to adhere to the same regulations full-scale mining operations do, and the creek running through the area has been deemed such a minor water source that laws protecting our water do not apply. Unfortunately, wild animals missed that memo and frequently get mucked down and drown in the pools of tar which has contaminated their water source.

Tar sands production is the most environmentally destructive way to provide energy, and it feeds our fossil fuel addiction which is resulting in the extreme weather and droughts occurring here and abroad. If we want to leave anything for future generations, the time to draw a line in the sand is now.

Volunteers with Utah Tar Sands Resistance are working hard to stop the mining. As the community closest to the proposed devastation, they need Mesa County residents to understand what’s happening and to help preserve the things we appreciate about our public lands.

We have all been invited to attend a campout from April 11-13 near the site of the first tar sands mine in the United States. So far, tar sands mining has decimated five acres across our border. It behooves us all to see what is happening before it’s too late to make a difference.

For more information and to let organizers know you’re coming, visit http://www.tarsandsresist.org.

A fourth generation Coloradan, GJ Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at gjrobyn@gmail.com.

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