The Canadian tar sands industry is invading the United States. Alberta-based Earth Energy Resources has won all necessary permits to excavate tar sands oil from a 62-acre site in Uintah County, Utah. And that’s just the start. Earth Energy has 7,800 acres of Utah state land under lease and plans to acquire more. The company estimates that its holdings contain more than 250 million barrels of recoverable oil.
Over the past decade, Canada has become the world’s largest exploiter of tar sands, paying a high environmental cost to extract and convert its heavy oil, known as bitumen, into usable forms. Canada’s tar sands boom has made it into the United States’ largest source of foreign oil—as well as a major target of environmentalists, who strongly oppose a pipeline that would carry tar sands crude to US refinieries.
It’s unlikely that Utah will ever rival Alberta’s bitumen mines in terms of numbers or size. The state is thought to contain 12 to 19 billion barrels of tar sands oil, compared to Alberta’s 174 billion. Still, thousands of acres of pristine wilderness are at risk, as is the environmental taboo that has so far kept one of the world’s dirtiest forms of energy production off of US soil.