Utah Judge Approves Nation’s First Oil Sands Project

Published October 4, 2012

The nation’s first oil sands project is one step closer to reality after a Utah state administrative law judge ruled Utah’s Division of Water Quality properly approved a proposal to mine and process oil sands in Utah. 

Judge Sandra Allen ruled Utah DWQ officials could approve the eastern Utah PR Spring oil sands project without requiring the project to obtain a pollution permit or undergo water monitoring. The decision marked a decisive defeat for two environmental activist groups opposing the project. 

Minimal Environmental Impact

Walt Baker, director of the Utah Division of Water Quality, says the project will have minimal impact on groundwater. 

Judge Allen agreed.

“Substantial evidence in the record supports a finding that shallow ground water has not been located and may be assumed absent in the project area,” Allen said in her 45-page ruling, released Aug 28. 

Two environmental activist groups, Living Rivers and Western Resource Advocates, had challenged DWQ’s decision. Western Resource Advocates declined to comment, and Living Rivers didn’t return requests for comment. 

“I understand the concerns that they [environmental activist groups] have about that industry, but as far as the responsibility of my office, we looked at this according to the merits of what is being proposed and the effect of the project on groundwater, on the water resources of the state. And that’s my charge, and we find that there will not be a deleterious effect on groundwater,” Baker said. 

Anti-Oil Sands Agenda

Baker said he believes environmental activist opposition to the project is less about water pollution and more about general opposition to oil sands production. 

“It’s hard for me to say what the feelings are of all other environmental groups, however many they may be that are protesting this, but I think this is probably less about the groundwater permit and more about the larger issue of oil shale, oil sands development in Utah,” said Baker.

The judge’s ruling will be sent to Utah’s Water Quality Board, an advisory panel to the Division of Water Quality, which will make a final decision on the project. 

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.