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Groups Criticize Nation's First Tar Sands Mine
A tar sands mine in Alberta, Canada.

The Canadian company U.S. Oil Sands is set to open the United States’ first ever tar sands mine in eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs. The move has encountered heavy criticism, mainly from environmental activists.

Tar sands mining extracts bitumen from the earth, which is then processed into oil at a refinery. Raphael Cordroy, spokesperson with Utah Tar Sands Resistance, said that tar sands mining releases pollutants from what’s left over after bitumen is obtained.

“They’ve been doing tar sands mining in Canada for over 30 years. We can see what has happened to the air and water quality and what kind of effects it has had,” Cordroy said. “A small percentage of the actual rock is the bitumen so they separate the part that they want to get to turn into oil and then they leave the other parts behind. [Pollutants] are mobilized and then they get into the water and the air.”

While U.S. Oil Sands asserts that it’s developing a cleaner method of bitumen extraction, Cordroy said that the chemicals are just too dangerous.

“It’s just really not possible to do this type of mining in a way that’s clean enough and safe enough,” she said. “Even this citrus product that they’re using, the chemicals they’re claiming they’re going to use to extract the bitumen, that’s a dangerous thing in and of itself. It’s the bottom of the barrel in terms of an oil product.”

An estimated 12 to 19 billion barrels of tar sands oil could be extracted from sites in Utah.