Twenty-one environmental activists were arrested at the construction site of a U.S. Oil Sands tar sands mine near Moab earlier this week.
Protestors in Uintah County have engaged in a constant two-month vigil near the site, which is set to become the first tar sands strip mine in the United States. Individuals have camped out, living on the land in opposition to the proposed clearing of 212 acres for the construction of the mine.
Protest efforts escalated Monday as 80 “land defenders” went on-site to the U.S. Oil Sands processing plant construction area, locking themselves to equipment and creating physical blockades with their bodies.
Jessica Lee, speaking on behalf of the protesters, said the issue of mine creation has been in court for years, with individuals protesting the project for various reasons. However, she said Monday’s protest was specifically targeted to oppose what protesters believe to be the trespassing of the company on tribal lands.
Lee said the Environmental Protection Agency sent a letter in mid-June informing U.S. Oil Sands that the area on which they plan to build the processing plant in eastern Utah is within Indian Territory.
Lee claimed the company proceeded to clear the land for construction despite awareness that they do not possess the proper permits to do so. UPR spoke with the Chief Executive Officer of U.S. Oil Sands, Cameron Todd, earlier this week, who claims the company has received no such letter.
“The project has been approved by all the branches of government that are relevant,” said Todd. “It’s been through numerous appeals, significant scientific and environmental review, passed with all flying colors and has withstood every appeal that’s been granted against it.”
Todd said the protesters are trespassing, which could be dangerous for themselves and workers. Protesters say that because the area is traditionally Ute land, the company is the one trespassing, not protestors.
Lee said strip mining permanently destroys the area and puts water sources at risk. She added refining will negatively impact air quality of the area.
“The company states that no water is going to be used or very little water is going to be used in their extraction process because they have a wonderful, magical chemical derived from citrus that somehow is going to make this safer, which is a blatant lie,” said Lee. “That chemical, the limonene, when mixed with the bitumen is actually going to be releasing carcinogens into the wilderness and into the water.”
Lee said the protest has been long running and will not soon lose steam.