Investors Beware: Tar Sands Industry Is a Capsizing Ship

 

It’s not an easy time to be a tar sands profiteer. Not that it ever really was.

By saying the outlook is dismal now, we risk implying that the outlook was once bright and cheery. Hardly. Tar sands mining has never been economically feasible in the U.S. Tar sands and oil shale upstarts have gone bust decade after decade trying to become the first to turn a profit, leaving destroyed land and devastated workers in their wake.

Now, the financial news headlines put the writing on the wall: We’re watching the death throes of a dying industry. And US Oil Sands is still trying to climb on board.

Cameron Todd's dreams are blowing away like this dust from a tar sands mine site.

Cameron Todd’s dreams are blowing away like this dust from a tar sands mine site.

Countless major financial news outlets spell out the state of the industry in stark terms. The Financial Times writes, “At current oil prices, typical oil sands producers are just covering their operating costs…while companies with higher operating costs are “losing money with each barrel they’re producing” (our italics).

Yes, the big players of Alberta have to keep producing to “weather the storm,” as The Toronto Star reports. Their investors have sunk billions into their projects, so they have little choice but to keep on keepin’ on in hopes of the slightest of upturns. But the upstarts are in a far more precarious—dare we say, impossible—position. Without a prayer of breaking even for, in all likelihood, quite a long time, they need someone to help them play the game of tar sands without a chance of actually bringing in any money.

Nonetheless, in its quarterly report released on August 28, US Oil Sands told investors it will achieve commercial production in the final quarter of 2015, a goal that relies on tight coordination of numerous factors, not to mention the whims of the market. And they’ve announced that they are seeking more funding in part because of the state of the market.

Don’t open your pocketbooks all at once, investors.

In an industry that already has an extremely narrow profit margin, because of its labor- and energy-intensive nature, the projection of success in 2015 seems quite hyperbolic. It’s not just a matter of producing some amount of low-grade fuel. It’s a matter of achieving economy of scale—producing the tremendous amount of fuel needed to eek out a profit. And those are the challenges under stable market conditions.

Let’s put all this in context. The Toronto Star reports, “A report from TD Securities says only two mining and upgrading projects are producing synthetic crude for less than its market price of about $36 per barrel. Analyst Menno Hulshof said more than three-quarters of Canada’s daily output of 2.2 million barrels of crude from the oil sands is being produced at a loss at current prices.”

Reuters reports, “More than three-quarters of Canada’s daily output of 2.2 million barrels of crude from oil sands is being produced at a loss at current prices, research from analysts at TD Securities shows.”

Inside Climate News says: “Since prices crashed, oil companies have delayed or cancelled $200 billion in projects, and nearly 30 percent of those are in the oil sands, according to a recent Wood Mackenzie report.”

This chipmunk is gloating.

This chipmunk is gloating.

Here’s a smattering other stories on the topic:

The Globe and Mail“Oil sands set for more pain as reductions loom for crude reserves”

CBC News, “Oilsands companies feel the pain as Canadian oil price falls”

Financial Post, “Oil sands brace for more misery as Canadian heavy crude plunges to lowest price in decade”

Edmonton Journal, “Capital investment in oilsands could decline further, CAPP president says”

Wall Street Journal, “Canadian oil-sands producers struggle”

In short, a project that’s already a speculative and high-risk venture has essentially been demonstrated worse than worthless by market forces, and US Oil Sands still seems to think there are foolish enough investors to put their money into this capsizing ship.

The real danger (aside that to investors): In the mad dash to achieve economy of scale and keep investors believing, a start-up company could destroy a vast amount of wilderness and contaminate waterways flowing from it. The operation might fail—like the tar sands mine abandoned in the mid-80s, just over the hill from US Oil Sands’ operation—but we’re left with its toxic legacy.

Couple that with the effects of popular resistance movements on upstart projects, which this study details.

We still love babies and are fighting for their future.

We still love babies, and will keep fighting for their future.

Meanwhile, the realities of climate change—like wildfires and dropping water levels—have recently been limiting tar sands production in the Athabasca region. In Utah, those realities are sure to hit us even harder.

Speaking of weather, did we mention the project sits at 8,000 feet, where it regularly snows in October and winter often lasts six months? Based on the company’s track record of shutting up shop during the colder months, when work is often impossible, we have serious doubts that even under the best of market conditions—and even if everything else were going swimmingly with their project—it would be possible to achieve commercial production in the dead of winter in the Book Cliffs.

So investors, if you’re set on putting your money on the unlikeliest of ventures, have at it. But we think you’re a bit more intelligent than that.

Video of Monday’s Tripod Blockade Shut-Down of Children’s Legacy Camp Clearcutting

Last week, we watched US Oil Sands clearcutting the Children’s Legacy Camp, completely devastating the area in just four short days.

Then on Monday, two tripods went up on the newly-bulldozed haul road that leads into the destruction zone, set up by stealthy and quick-moving allies. No sooner had they thrown up the tripods than two agile climbers had pulled themselves up into their apexes, all before the cops posted at the processing site down the road must have had any idea what was happening.

tripod1

Watch this awesome video of the action from Direct Autonomous Media!

As the day wore on, spirits stayed high, with folks singing, chanting, and calling moral support to the tripod sitters. By late morning, a cherry picker had finally arrived to extract the folks perched on the tripods. But after the cops arrested the  first tripod sitter, and the cherry picker was moving toward the second, another quick-thinking comrade locked to the cherry picker itself, causing a serious delay to the extractions!

cherrypickerlockdown-600x400

For more coverage of the action, visit PeacefulUprising.org/aca2015

We’re so very grateful for the brave folks who took action to defend Children’s Legacy Camp and the legacy we are leaving for the children of our world. The images of the bulldozed site speak for themselves: The only legacy USOS would leave our children is one of toxic destruction. We think they deserve something better. Join us at the vigil to see for yourself what is happening and get involved!

http://www.tarsandsresist.org/camp/

Vigil Location Update

Friends, if you decide to visit the vigil, we are at a site set just slightly back from Seep Ridge Road across from US Oil Sands’ worksite. It’s right by the big gravel pile that’s on your left as you head down Seep Ridge Road from the Vernal/Roosevelt area. You turn onto a small road on your left, which is just before the gravel pile. You’ll see the vigil site as you pull onto that road. Come visit and get involved!

PTDC0675 (1)

BREAKING: USOS Is Bulldozing Children’s Legacy Camp NOW

BREAKING: US Oil Sands is at this moment bulldozing the beloved Children’s Legacy Camp–a site where we’ve held multiple Intergenerational Campouts and other events over the past three years!

protest at clc 2

Over the past day, they have been stripping trees and soil from the land, dumping soil into the lush canyon below their processing site.

The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining recently issued them a permit to expand into this area, but USOS has not yet secured its permits from the EPA to allow it to move forward with work. The EPA sent the company a letter in June 2014–over a year ago–telling it to get these permits.

We are outraged at how the state of Utah turns a blind eye to the harm USOS is causing to our watershed and airshed, and to the rampant habitat destruction they are right now causing to one of our region’s most diverse and wild places.

PTDC0790

The children who have spent time bonding with this land will be devastated to see these photos, but they need to know whose interests the state of Utah protects. It’s their future at stake, and we need to fight for it alongside them, and alongside all frontline resisters fighting the world’s most deadly projects.

PTDC0675 (1)

These photos say it all. There is no future in tar sands mining. It brings death, destruction, depletion of our most vital resources. JOIN US at the vigil, see for yourself what is at stake, and take action. Write letters to the editor, call the people who are allowing this to go forward without even the bare-minimum permitting, and JOIN THE FIGHT to stop it!

This is NOT any kind of future for our children and grandchildren! Call the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining at (801) 538-5329. Flood EPA Region 8’s lines! 303-312-6312 or in Region 8 states 800-227-8917.

Your voice, your presence, your energy are needed now more than ever to prevent this destruction from going any further!

PTDC0789

Even the Sky Is at Stake

Image c/o ForestWanderer.com

Image c/o ForestWanderer.com

It’s not their sky simply because they’ve leased the land below it, stolen from indigenous peoples by an imperialist government. It’s not our sky. Possessives have no place when talking about something so vast and all-encompassing. Yet US Oil Sands’ lights have gone up—streetlights, on the ridgeline of the Book Cliffs wilderness. Streetlights lying dormant, threatening every night to awaken and consume that which should never be claimed.

In the Book Cliffs—the land the state of Utah has leased as a tar sands sacrifice zone—you’ll find a place with skies darker, stars brighter, than almost anywhere else you may ever go. There is nothing, for many miles, to impede that view at all. The constellation pop out of this expanse as you search for the ones you know and muse upon what other societies, like the Uintah Utes, see when they look up at night.

On the full moon, you can hike across the ridgelines where sagebrush glow silver and ghosts roam the edges of imagination. You start to see bears everywhere—in the rocky canyonside, in the shining aspen groves in the shadowy ravines below. With the return of the new moon, you stay close to the campfire, the world shrouded in a dark cloak of possibilities—cougar or coyote slinking along forest’s edge, swarms of bats sweeping out of their caves, hiding in the thick stands of trees.

Now they want to take away even that.

US Oil Sands has installed lightposts around their 23-acre ridgeline worksite where they are setting up tar sands processing equipment. Every day, we wonder: Will tonight be the night they take the sky away?

Fish and Tadpoles Seen at the Abandoned Mine!

Life is not going to return on the abandoned tar sands mine over the hill from US Oil Sands’ site in the Book Cliffs any time soon. Called the “Bryson 4,” it has lain barren for over three decades, the hilltop scraped away to reveal a flat expanse of tar sand rock, like an uneven asphalt parking lot. Mounds of crumbled rock sit as if waiting to be processed in the rusted contraption that sits below the pulverized hill, rubble frozen onto its output chute as if time has stopped.

But nature still tries to return. Last week, a flock of ravens sat atop one of the rock piles, and it became apparent that they had been snacking on small fish and tadpoles that had somehow emerged in the unlikeliest of places–a green cesspool of a puddle that had collected on the exposed tar sands.

It was mere inches deep–probably not large enough to call a pond–yet the fish, frogs, and insects had taken advantage of this tiny haven on the wounded hilltop. It would certainly dry up eventually; it surely wasn’t an earmark of progress for the failed reclamation of the site. And it suggests that when the land returns, it may look radically different than it did before. The beings inhabiting it could have illnesses or mutations from lifelong exposure–or total submersion–in toxic waste. No, this is not a resurgence–it’s a call to trust nature, in her infinite ingenuity; to celebrate the miracles that abound all around us, rather than fracturing and pulverizing all the beauty that is here, all the beauty that is home to so many.

23 leonard murphy

US Oil Sands (or the State of Utah?) Prematurely Posts No-Trespassing Signs on Contested Site

DOGM (Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas and Mining) ruled last week that US Oil Sands could expand its work zone into what we have come to call “Children’s Legacy Camp,” the beloved site where we’ve held our Intergenerational Campout for the past two years. Days before that decision was made, however, USOS (or state officials working at their behest?) had already posted “No Trespassing” signs along the boundary of the area, despite the fact that the public was fully permitted to hike, camp, or otherwise enjoy that area of land.

IMG_0932

What’s more, the signs are labeled “Uintah County” although the area is actually within Grand County. In their hurry to lay claim to the site, it seems USOS couldn’t even get the basic details right—or perhaps they made that mistake intentionally. It seems obvious to us why they would want the police force of a more industry-friendly county to deal with any potential trespassers even when it’s the legal jurisdiction of a more tourism-friendly county.

IMG_0926

 

What’s most troubling to us is that state officials have either overtly or tacitly sanctioned this premature claim of public lands. A cop working for the Attorney General’s office was posted at the site for the duration of Peaceful Uprising’s Colorado Plateau Defense Camp last week, and the signs were posted during that time. It’s hard for us to imagine that he didn’t witness or at some point notice the posting of the signs, which stand in an area between the Colorado Plateau Defense Camp location and the mine site, even if he wasn’t personally responsible for posting them. Either possibility is an obvious case of corporate-state collusion.

And if it were USOS that posted the signs or requested them, we believe their poor attention to detail should be just another deterrent to any potential investors who are contemplating putting their money into the project. The company’s propensity for making brash and foolhardy decisions doesn’t bode well for its potential to manage a project bearing the level of risk that theirs does.

 

 

 

Come to the Colorado Plateau Defense Camp, July 11-17!

6

Folks from across so-called Colorado are invited to the East Tavaputs Plateau in so-called Utah from July 11-17, facilitated by Peaceful Uprising. Come for a week of workshops, discussions, and hiking alongside land defenders protecting the plateau from the first commercial tar sands mine in the US. The week will include discussions on climate justice, decolonization, anti-oppression, nonviolent direct action training, and role plays, as well as hiking and capture the flag in the woods.

From the event announcement: 

In an effort to build solidarity across the region, we plan to bring different elements of Colorado’s student-led environmental, divestment, and other movements together, along with non-student led efforts. By building relationships, we can see that our many different struggles are all connected and fight our common enemies in defense of Mother Earth.

With myriad companies waiting in the wings to see if US Oil Sands’ tar sands mine gets off the ground, a huge area of the Colorado Plateau is at stake. Come help us defend this region from the threat of tar sands and oil shale.

To register, please email your name, phone number, what groups you are associated with (if any), how many people will be coming with you, and experience level with direct action to info@peacefuluprising.org. Please also let us know if you would need travel support to attend, as a limited amount may be available, particularly for people of marginalized groups in this region. Likewise, please let us know if you can provide travel support for others.

As we all gather together, we acknowledge that there can be no safe spaces in a settler colonial state on stolen land. The Book Cliffs, the land being mined for tar sands, is stolen Ute land. Those of us who are settlers living on this land want to be accountable for our presence here. The purpose of this camp is to participate in the work being done to protect the land while creating accountable spaces where we can challenge the normalization of white supremacy and settler colonialism. So, no cultural appropriation, homophobia, sexism, racism, classism, ableism, transphobia, ageism, speciesism, or settler colonial attitudes will be tolerated.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1851866415038062/

Please register by email to info@peacefuluprising.org SOON!

Please read these articles to prepare for coming to camp:

”Cultural Appreciation or Cultural Appropriation?”from Unsettling America
https://unsettlingamerica.wordpress.com/2011/09/16/cultural-appreciation-or-cultural-appropriation/

“Heteropatriarchy and the 3 Pillars of White Supremacy” by Andrea Smith
http://collectiveliberation.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Smith_Heteropatriarchy_3_Pillars_of_White_Supremacy.pdf

“Cisseexism and Cis Privilege Revisited – Part 1: Who Exactly Does ‘Cis’ Refer To?” by Julia Serano
http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2014/10/cissexism-and-cis-privilege-revisited.html

Tar Sands: Why We Fight
http://www.peacefuluprising.org/action/no-tar-sands

Join us June 19-21 for the 3rd Annual Intergenerational Campout!

legacy

Join us June 19-21 for our Third Annual Intergenerational Campout, bringing together families to protect future generations from tar sands mining!

This is a unique opportunity to camp out in the scenic Book Cliffs of Eastern Utah with your family and friends and a group of people dedicated to climate justice.

Fun and informative activities will be planned throughout the weekend for adults and children of various ages.

At the first campout, in 2013, year a group of families converged at PR Springs, site of the first proposed tar sands mine in the United States. While there, everyone from a 2-year-old and pre-teens to grandparents spent time exploring the land with local organizers, hiking, birdwatching, water testing, and, most importantly, learning about US Oil Sands’ project and witnessing the devastation already being wrought by their 9-acre test site.

Last year, a group of familiSONY DSCes took nonviolent direct action together by marching onto the nearby Red Leaf oil shale site to demand to see their operation. Red Leaf claimed it was building the largest oven in the world to process oil shale, but has been keeping it hidden from the public.

The School & Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), the State of Utah, and US Oil Sands would have us believe that the tar sands & oil shale projects moving forward in Eastern Utah are all for the benefit of the children. For, they would say, isn’t all the money from the Trust Lands being leased for extreme fossil fuel development going towards education? No. SITLA’s annual contribution to education accounts for only about 1 percent of the state’s $3 billion-plus education budget. With every parcel of stolen land leased for development and extraction, and every acre sacrificed, the more the land is devastated, the water put at risk and polluted, and the air filled with dust and toxins, the future of our children, and of future generations, becomes more and more bleak.

The short term gains from destroying the Book Cliffs, and turning Colorado Plateau into a sacrifice zone, is not worth the future of our children. Come see what’s at risk. Come take a stand.

FOR DIRECTIONS TO THE AREA & TIPS FOR CAMPING, VISIT OUR CONNECT WITH THE LAND PAGE.

IMG_1193 (1)

 

Our 2015 Permanent Protest Vigil Has Launched!

Two weeks ago, tar sands resisters returned to the East Tavaputs Plateau to set up an ongoing protest vigil on the land leased for tar sands extraction. We came to witness, to document, to show people the land and inspire them to stand against tar sands, oil shale, and all extreme extraction.

We are now excited to tell the world that we’re back, and we’re not leaving until US Oil Sands gives up and goes home.

IMG_1263 (1)

 

In this remote area of the Book Cliffs, a start-up company called US Oil Sands has leased 32,000 acres of land managed by the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for tar sands mining. Based in Alberta, Canada, US Oil Sands is a striking example of how corporations pay no mind to the same borders through which regular people are so often denied access. The company says it plans to begin commercial production in late 2015.

Tar sands mining would turn this lush wilderness into a bleak moonscape of gray rubble. It would level the canyons teeming with life, and send toxins into the waterways that feed the Colorado River, which 40 million people rely on for survival. And because tar sands refining is an incredibly dirty process–even compared to refining of regular crude–it would also pump toxins into the air of people in Salt Lake City. All this would support the production of a low-grade fuel that would never even be feasible without heavy subsidies, because it takes much more energy to extract than regular crude.

UTSR Vigil 2Last year, our ongoing protest vigil lasted through US Oil Sands’ work season, from mid-May through late October. We hosted numerous groups and individuals at our public gatherings, giving people tours of the land and inviting them to become part of the popular resistance against tar sands mining and for a livable future.

We’re thrilled to be returning to the land we love so deeply. It’s a land with a rich history, part of the Uintah Ute Band’s homeland and their traditional hunting grounds. It’s a land filled with bears, cougars, coyotes, and countless other species. So far this year, we’ve seen deer, elk, turkeys, and a coyote. And lately, it’s been a land of rolling thunder and sudden downpours, but fortunately we spent last summer practicing our tarping skills. 

Please DONATE to this effort to help make our protest vigil a huge success!

Things seemed quiet on US Oil Sands’ work site at first, though we witnessed some activity this week. We know it’s awfully hard for those big machines to work on muddy ground–the East Tavaputs Plateau has been holding her own against the ongoing violence enacted against her.

IMG_1182

 

This vigil–and the many direct actions that various groups and individuals have taken against the tar sands mine–are necessary because we don’t seem likely to win this battle through the court system. On June 12, 2014, the EPA issued an order to US Oil Sands demanding that they gain additional permitting to deal with stormwater runoff before continuing with their project, because they are operating on an area deemed “Indian Country” under federal law. The company continued bulldozing, and nobody made them stop–that is, until 80 folks took direct action in July, shutting them down for a week. But during that action, the police worked to arrest the folks taking action and protect the company, paying no mind to the fact that they were operating illegally.

Living Rivers is pursuing a legal challenge to the mine. Their first case was dismissed on a technicality by the Utah Supreme Court in June 2014, but they recently filed another suit that cites more recent evidence of how US Oil Sands would pollute the watershed of the Green and Colorado Rivers. We fully support Living Rivers and believe this is necessary work, but we aren’t banking on the court system–and we hope you aren’t either.

IMG_1193 (1)

 

Back at the home front, we’ve been preparing for upcoming gatherings like the June 19-21 Intergeneration Campout. We look forward to sharing this summer and fall with new and old friends, witnessing all the plateau’s seasons along with the growth of our vibrant community of resistance. We hope to see you soon on the East Tavaputs Plateau!

IMG_1153

 

Please DONATE to this effort! Thank you for all of your help and support.