At the Edge of the World: Fighting Tar Sands Strip Mining in Eastern Utah

Dirty Energy Kills

A presentation by tar sands resisters

Wednesday, May 13, 6:30 to 8:45

Meet & greet at 6:30 p.m.
eventstarts at 7:00 pm

SLC Main Public Library Auditorium

Last summer, 26 people were arrested on Utah’s East Tavaputs Plateau for taking direct action to halt construction of the first potential tar sands mine in the U.S. The grassroots groups Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Peaceful Uprising maintained a 5-month protest vigil in the potential sacrifice zone from May through October. Hear land defenders share their experiences of taking direct action against one of the greatest threats to our land, water, air, and climate–and what they plan to do next.

Campaign members will share what it was like to live on the land for months at a stretch, witnessing both incredible destruction and beauty. They’ll describe upcoming campaign plans and how to get involved.

Land defenders will also explain the dangers of tar sands mining, what the process involves, and why direct action is the last and best option for stopping this mine. A Q&A will follow.

https://www.facebook.com events/878427792230512/

Words too powerful for the court?

We had prepared and arranged for one of the defendants to give a customary statement to the court on behalf of the defendants about why they did what we did, why we do what we do, and why we must continue.  The judge denied us his audience.  Instead this statement was read to the news media outside the courtroom. 

The Moral Imperative to Halt Tar Sands Mining

Last summer, twenty-five people were arrested for participating in acts of civil disobedience to halt construction of U.S. Oil Sands’ tar sands mine. We felt we had no choice but to take such action because of the blatant human rights violations that tar sands mining causes.

Tar sands is essentially naturally occurring asphalt. Extracting a low-grade oil out of it demands a tremendous amount of energy and water, making it a massive contributor to climate change as well as water and air pollution. Separating the bitumen from the rock mobilizes dangerous toxins that are present in substantial amounts, like mercury and arsenic.

In Canada, where tar sands mining has destroyed an area the size of Florida, it has polluted the Athabasca River with substances causing cancer, birth defects, and mutations in parts per trillion.

Indigenous people in the community downriver are getting rare cancers at an alarming rate, with cases occurring at a 30% higher rate than expected. Marginalized communities typically face the most severe environmental injustices, and we fear that this will be the case for indigenous communities who rely on the Colorado River and live downstream from the tar sands mines.

These communities are already dealing with many violations of their human rights from uranium extraction, water depletion, and a multitude of other issues. Their right to health, along with that of the 40 million water drinkers who rely on the Colorado, is being sacrificed for corporate profit. The same will happen to those in the airshed of the mining area and the refineries in Salt Lake City where the bitumen is expected to be processed.

Tar sands mining also uses copious amounts of water. The state of Utah takes at face value U.S. Oil Sands’ claims that it will use minimal water, when every tar sands project in existence uses massive amounts of water. Meanwhile, U.S. Oil Sands is already using precious deep aquifer water for its operations—water that should be reserved for sustaining life in a drying world. It has been well-documented that the Colorado’s flow is steadily dwindling, due to catastrophic climate change, which tar sands mining itself exacerbates. We can’t allocate more water to industrial use when the river has less water to give every year. We need to think of all the people downriver who rely on that water for sustenance. Because 15% of our nation’s food is grown using Colorado River water, giving more of our water to industry would endanger our food security as well.

Further, catastrophic climate change is real. Virtually all of the scientific community accepts it, yet our government continues to permit and subsidize projects that send us further toward climate collapse. Tar sands has a more detrimental climate impact than just about any other project, producing three times as much greenhouse gas as regular crude. It doesn’t matter if the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) manages to raise 2% of the public school budget this year if we’re leaving our children with a doomed world.

Once the land is strip-mined, its complex ecosystems will take perhaps centuries to return. We believe we must not leave a vast area of the East Tavaputs Plateau a tar sands wasteland. Despite U.S. Oil Sands’ claims, there is no way they can bring the land back with anything close to the complexity of this diverse high desert and canyon ecosystem. We maintain that corporations have no right to destroy places like Utah’s Book Cliffs forever.

On June 12, 2014, the EPA issued a directive to U.S. Oil Sands saying that USOS needs additional permitting because the strip mine is on traditional Uintah and Ouray Reservation land.

Nobody has held U.S. Oil Sands to this requirement—on the contrary, the company has continued clear-cutting, blasting, and bulldozing the land without securing the required permits.

After careful consideration, we came to the conclusion that we have the moral imperative, as residents who rely on the air, water, and land of this region, to protect these resources when our government refuses to serve as steward of them on behalf of the people.

We believe we must protect this land and these resources for future generations. SITLA is entrusted with managing this land for the long-term benefit of the public schools, but instead is sacrificing it for short-term gains, which stands in diametrical opposition to its mission. Over the past several years, we and various other organizations have pursued legal solutions such as a challenge to U.S. Oil Sands’ wastewater dumping permit, discussions with SITLA, and public rallies, to no avail. Our government’s insistence on looking the other way as tar sands strip mining in Utah jeopardizes our future led us to take civil disobedience in order to persuade our government to protect human rights over corporate profits. Only after serious deliberation did we choose to jeopardize our own liberty by using the age-old tactic of nonviolent civil disobedience for the sake of our future and all the generations to come.

Press release: Utah tar sands opponents to be sentenced

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Utah tar sands opponents to be sentenced

VERNAL–Plea agreements reached between the Uintah County Attorney’s office and 25 tar sands opponents arrested in July and September, some charged with felonies, will be revealed in 8th District Court Thursday at 9 AM.

Can’t make it to Vernal?
A representative of the defendants will be available for interviews and on-camera comments
at 2:30 pm Thursday, January 8
in front of the Matheson Courthouse in Salt Lake City immediately following the hearing

Construction of the US Oil Sands tar sands strip mine in the Book Cliffs of Utah was halted for one week in July due to protesters’ efforts to stop the project. They say all levels of government and corporate investors have failed to stop the misguided project and so everyday people have had to step in.

“This tar sands mine isn’t safe for drinking water, it’s a huge contribution to climate catastrophe, it’s destroying vital animal habitat, it’s destroying Mother Earth seized from indigenous people, and will make the region’s air even more toxic for everyone,” said Raphael Cordray of Utah Tar Sands Resistance. “It’s not even safe for investors who are exposed to so much litigation risk attached to all those dangerous factors that violate the public trust.”

State and county government have strongly supported the development of tar sands and oil shale strip mines, in part by funding and building a 70-mile highway–named Seep Ridge Road–without which the tar sands project would be financially unfeasible. Court challenges were unsuccessful.

Protesters say the heavy-handed charges have drawn more attention to the campaign and attracted even more eager supporters. “The urgency to stop this project continues despite the repression from the state and police,” Cordray said. “This project is life-threatening and violent. As more people learn about, more people are inspired to do what they can to stop it. This project is so awful that resistance is inevitable.”

In the largest protest action, on July 21, about 80 protesters in pre-dawn hours swarmed a fenced equipment yard. Several locked their bodies to construction equipment and blocked entrance to the yard and hung a banner reading “U are Tresspassing on Ute Land.” After about 11 people were extracted and arrested there, a second segment of people sat in the roadway temporarily blocking police vehicles from leaving. In all, 21 people were arrested that day, seven of whom were charged with felonies including rioting.

On Septmeber 23, disguised in chipmunk masks, a group of just five people were able to shut down work at the sprawling 200-acre construction site.

In all during 2014, police arrested 26 people for various actions that disrupted the tar sands mine’s activity. Many disruptive actions occurred in which police were able to arrest no one. Thursday’s hearing will conclude the last of the court cases attached to 2014 actions against the tar sands mine construction.

Media Contact
Raphael Cordray
801-503-2149

Protester “chipmunks” obstruct work at Utah tar sands mine; 5 arrested

Chipmunk preserving their home.

Sept. 30, 2014 | For Immediate Release

PR SPRINGS, Utah–Protesters again stopped work at the construction site of the first tar sands mine in the US.  Five people were later arrested and jailed but the campaign to stop the mine said the resistance will not relent until all tar sands plans are canceled.

By moving quickly through the site to obstruct numerous construction vehicles, just a handful of speedy protesters were able to shut down the enormous construction project on a sprawling 213 acres in Utah’s Book Cliffs.

The action took place Sept. 23.

“Direct, physical intervention is necessary to halt the completion of this toxic project,” said one protester. “If just five percent of those people at the People’s Climate March in New York City came to Utah, we could shut down tar sands construction for good–and probably get away with it.”

bulldozers stopped.

A playful video of the action released by Utah Tar Sands Resistance shows protesters donning chipmunk masks, running, dancing and posing for pictures among the many halted machines.

Despite the humor, protesters say Utah tar sands development threatens the safety of drinking water for 40 million people and would cause irreparable damage to the land, including clear-cutting of old-growth juniper, fir and pine forest.

US Oil Sands began major construction of their strip mine in 2014 and hopes for commercial sales beginning sometime in 2015. Hundreds of people have participated in actions disrupting construction work this year, vowing to prevent functioning of the mine. Including the new five defendants, 27 people from Utah and throughout the Americas are facing criminal charges in connection with protest actions.

Construction of the mine is scheduled to end this month due to oncoming winter conditions. Protesters have vowed to return in the spring.

###

Utah Tar Sands Resistance received the following communique from the “chipmunks”:

The tar sands industry is not threatened by symbolic media actions. Direct physical intervention is necessary to halt the completion of this toxic project. What we did was necessary, but it was not enough. We need more people to intervene to roll back US Oil Sands’ assault on land, water, plants, animals and indigenous sovereignty. We encourage everyone to act to halt construction and note that it is no one’s duty to hand themselves over to the state each time they disrupt dangerous projects. We knew we were risking arrest of ourselves or nearby friends who weren’t even involved in this action, and we do not regret our actions. But please, anyone who is able: disrupt the tar sands industry, halt construction and operations and get away with it! Hundreds of thousands of people Sept. 21 marched in New York City just to have a parade for the media. If just 5 percent of those people came to Utah and engaged in direct action, we could shut down tar sands construction for good–and probably get away with it. Our friends who were arrested were subjected to abuse and trasmisogyny from police and jailers that left all of us in a state of terror regarding the welfare of our trans woman friend who was kept in solitary confinement–where the jailers had ample access to abuse her without witnesses, a regular occurrence for incarcerated trans people. No justice seeker should feel compelled to subject themselves or their friends to this kind of state-sponsored abuse that comes with arrest and jail just to live up to some class-privileged individuals’ problematic views on what types of protest deserve respect. Lastly, the video of the chipmunk work stoppage on US Oil Sands’ strip mine project–occurring on stolen Ute land–demonstrates this company’s blatant disregard for the life and safety of people on the work site. US Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd made claims in the media that workers stop work immediately if anyone is present on the worksite–a requirement of federal safety regulations. But the video shows what we’ve seen again and again: rampant deviation from this guidance and thus rampant violations of safety regulations. KBR-contracted Stubbs and Stubbs’ reaction to our presence echoes their disregard for the amazing ecosystems of the Book Cliffs and beyond, and the lives that they are systematically poisoning and destroying. 

 

Faces of the grassroots climate movement: rowdy and rowdier

Marches around the country this week show ideological diversity among a new cohort of activists.

by Cally Carswell

(This article has been re-posted from High Country News)

Protesters march toward U.S. Oil Sands’ test pit, on the East Tavaputs Plateau in Utah’s Book Cliffs. The company is moving toward opening the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S., and began clearing a site for a processing facility down the road this summer.

Last Sunday, under a pocket of blue sky, some 30 people spilled out of vehicles onto Seep Ridge Road, a wide thoroughfare that traverses a remote spine of eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs, and is in the process of being paved. Many in the group wore hats or wrapped their heads with scarves, then tied bandanas over their noses and mouths. They looked tough, hard-edged, but not without a sense of humor. One woman carried a shepherd’s cane, one man wore a clown mask, and another played tunes like “This Land is Our Land” on a saxophone. The wind whipped them energetically.

The guises were defenses not against the weather, but against the cops and a security camera trained on a test pit for what could soon become the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S. Tar sands contain an unconventional crude called bitumen, that with a great deal of water and energy can be extracted from sand and rock, and refined into fuel. The industry is big business in Alberta, Canada, and one of the most carbon-intense fossil fuels. U.S. environmentalists have fiercely opposed the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands crude to U.S. refineries, in a bid to influence further development to the north. Less known, and less opposed nationally, is the push to develop Utah’s own tar sands deposits.

The protesters were here to say “no” to the development, because as one explained earlier in the day, “These days, if you’re not saying ‘no,’ you’re saying ‘yes’.” It felt good to say “no,” another told me, and to do so publicly.

After all, the politer approaches to solving the climate crisis, the attempts by big environmental groups to work inside the halls of Congress, to compromise, and to wield science to compel action, had failed. It was time, the protesters believed, to confront the problem at its source – carbon spewing projects like this one – and to do so loudly. A few among them unfurled a banner declaring “Together and Everywhere We Rise Up for Climate Justice.” The group began to march toward the test pit. Continue reading

Five Land Defenders Arrested at Utah Tar Sands Protest

reflection

BREAKING: Five Land defenders were arrested yesterday morning at the construction site of US Oil Sands’ tar sands strip-mine in Utah. The Canadian company’s 32,000 acre lease-holding are on state-managed land in the Book Cliffs, on the East Tavaputs Plateau, though the land is traditional Ute land, and lays within Indian country, with sections of the tar sands project straddling the boundary of the Uintah & Ouray Reservation.

Currently, the land defenders (including the media team) are being held on Class A Trespassing charges, with a total bail estimated at $10,500.

One of those arrested is a trans woman, and at this time we are unsure if she is being held in solitary, or if she is being housed with the male population. Neither situation is acceptable, we are extremely concerned about the dangers she may be facing.

We will provide updates and media here as they become available.

Donate to the land defenders’ legal support fund using this secure link or with the form below:

 

(PHOTOS) Fall Campout in the Book Cliffs: “We rise up for Climate Justice!”

From Utah to NY: Together & Everywhere We Rise Up For Climate Justice!

Over the weekend of Sept. 19th, folks from all over Utah, Colorado, and even as far away as Brooklyn & England, gathered at our permanent protest camp to share stories of Resistance, and tour the the East Tavaputs Plateau: specifically US Oil Sands’ tar sands strip-mine.

Together with our friends from Canyon Country Rising Tide, we marched down Seep Ridge Road, along the football-sized area being clear-cut for US Oil Sands’ construction site, and into the 10-acre test pit that gives us a glimpse of the future if 32,000 acres are strip-mined in the Book Cliffs.

We stand & resist in solidarity with communities everywhere rising up to protect lands, water & our very future.

Shutting down the Uintah Basin Energy Summit: “A message to all of you short-sighted killers”

“Disorderly Conduct” by Sidhe, a message to US Oil Sands and other killers

 

 

On Sept. 4th, Utah Tar Sands Resistance interrupted the 2014 Uintah Basin Energy Summit, a yearly conference where tar sands and oil shale speculators are exalted and anyone “not excited” about the destruction of the Book Cliffs is shut out and silenced.

Land defender Sidhe had planned to share her entire poem with the 700 conference goers, but police–already aware of the conference organizers’ insecurities and impatience–would not cede a moment to their dissenters. Sidhe was booked into the Uintah County Jail on suspicion of “disorderly conduct,” an exceedingly fitting charge police could level against the tar sands speculators destroying the planet who were in the room, but alas, the police work for the capitalists, not the people.

“Disorderly Conduct” by Sidhe

A message to all of you short-sighted killers
What kind of world will you leave behind for your children
When you’ve squeezed every last drop of life from the land
With your greed and your murder you’ve wrought with your plans

I’d like to remind you your money means nothing
When the water’s been blackened and the creatures are starving
You toy with a force you do not understand
Your chemicals won’t wash all that blood off your hands

First Nations fight cancer up in Athabasca
Your oil trains are time bombs impending disaster
Your pipelines will leak and your cesspools will sprawl
And your babies are left with the brunt of it all

What of the animals caught in the tar?
What of the forests left clear cut and scarred?
What of those atrocities I didn’t witness?
Like Serafino in Columbia sending assassins
To murder union organizers who stood up and spoke out
In the back of my mind I can still hear them shout
I am made of this land you are made of the same
The planet is dying and you are to blame

Are you proud of yourselves? Look at what you’ve become
Heartless machines, so frigid and numb
So reluctant to think that you may just be wrong
That you hear the dissent and you send in the guns.

Ditching the Big Greens: Uprooting The Liberal Climate Agenda

Uprooting The Liberal Climate Agenda

by SCOTT PARKIN

“You can’t hate the roots of a tree and not hate the tree.”

― Malcolm X

Somewhere between the Bay Area’s environmental non-profit bubble and multi-million climate march planning in New York City, 21 people in the Utah desert took action to shut down the first tar sands mine in the United States.

They’d been part of a larger encampment on the eastern plateau, where local organizers educated over 80 student climate activists about the Utah tar sands as well as trainings on organizing, direct action and anti-oppression. Utah tar sands fighters have spent the summer living in the area as a constant protest against Canadian-based company U.S. Oil Sands’ extraction efforts on the plateau. Every night, black bears raided the camp looking for food and every day local and state police agencies harassed the camp with veiled threats and innuendo derived through Facebook stalking. Despite the harassment and surveillance by the state, actions happen. This particular arrest action gained lots of national media attention and a number of larger environmental organizations put out statements of support of the activists. It also included a number of escalated felony charges on some of the activists.

Utah tar sands fighters living on the ground on the plateau, in Moab and in Salt Lake City live and breathe the campaign against the Utah Tar Sands. They strategize and organize it the same way that Appalachian mountain defenders organize the struggle against mountaintop removal coal mining. They live it the same way that the Tar Sands Blockade lived the campaign against the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline in east Texas and Oklahoma. In all of these campaigns, it’s been an alliance of unpaid radical organizers working with local landowners and community members fighting to save homes, forests, water supplies and more. Furthermore, these campaigns have defined risk and sacrifice.

In Appalachia, after numerous actions on strip mine sites, coal companies filed lawsuits against those participating in civil disobedience actions. West Virginia law enforcement imposed huge bails to further deter actions on mine sites. In Texas, TransCanada sued numerous individuals and three grassroots organizations for over $20 million after the same sort of action. The Canadian oil giant also compiled dossiers on noted organizers and briefed local and federal law enforcement agencies with possible crimes and charges for stopping work on its work sites. Texas law enforcement obliged TransCanada’s hard work with felony charges and violent brutalization of peaceful protestors.

In each of these campaigns, bold and effective organizing against oil, gas and coal companies has created moments to stop egregious practices and projects at the points of destruction only to be abandoned or ignored by the larger environmental establishment. In the wake of that abandonment, hundreds of Appalachian Mountains have been leveled while oil flows through the Keystone XL pipeline from Cushing, OK to the Gulf Coast, and ground is now broken on the first tar sands mine in the United States.

The liberal reform agenda of the environmental establishment continues to dominate the climate movement. Organizations sitting on millions of dollars in resources and thousands of staff are now engaged in a massive “Get Out The Vote” style operation to turn out tens of thousands to marches before the September 23rd United Nations’ Climate Summit in New York. Their hope is to impact the summit framed as U.N. Secretary General Bai-Ki Moon’s dialogue with global politicians on climate change in the lead up to the 2015 climate talks. Civil society’s demands include passing meaningful climate legislation and signing binding agreements on carbon regulation.

History continues to repeat itself as the environmental establishment had similar demands in Copenhagen at the 2009 climate talks. After spending millions of their donors’ dollars and thousands of hours of staff time, successes included an email campaign that got President Obama to travel to Denmark and personally witness the failure of those climate talks. Almost simultaneously, legislation to regulate carbon emissions failed in the U.S. Congress as well. After outspending the climate liberals 10 to 1, the political will of Big Oil and Big Coal remained unbreakable. Meanwhile, these same companies continue to drill, mine, frack, pollute, poison, build pipelines and burn coal in neighborhoods and communities from coast to coast.

However, there is recent precedent for movements to effectively confront power-holders that moves beyond traditional liberal solutions of compromise and polite advocacy with grassroots organizing, direct action and meaningful solidarity with communities seeking clean and just solutions to pollution and exploitation.

In 1999, the North American anti-corporate globalization movement partnered with peoples’ movements in the Global South to literally end business as usual at the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle. A grassroots spirit dedicated in solidarity with anti-austerity, human rights and environmental movements around the world spread like wildfire. Rooted in direct action, direct democracy and anti-capitalism of movements both in the U.S. and abroad, the global justice movement had been built over decades to stop the privatization of labor, environmental and human rights protections across the globe. The Seattle shutdown happened in defiance of Democratic politicians, Big Labor and other large organizations dedicated to reaching agreements with Corporate America in the WTO talks.

In 2011, after decades of pickets and strikes, of budget cuts, layoffs and evictions, the movement for economic justice in the United States rose to a new level as Occupy Wall Street began to occupy parks and public spaces across the nation. This happened after decades of politicians creating policies that benefited the rich and powerful while harming poor and working people. These occupations against the power of the “1%” created such a dramatic tension that the Dept. of Homeland Security coordinated a massive crackdown that ended many Occupy camps.

Throughout the Global South, they fight back against the polluters and the profiteers as well. In states across India, residents living near coal plants regularly engage in direct action and street fighting against authorities defending the right of corporations to poison their communities. In China’s Hainan and Guandong provinces, tens of thousands have taken to the streets in resistance to coal polluting their air and water. In 2011, Bolivia passed the rights of mother earth into law in defiance of companies in western democracies profiting from destroying the planet for financial gains.

While the liberal climate agenda is rooted in compromise with policy-makers and playing nice with corporations, a radical climate agenda must take the small disparate pieces of the existing climate movement and grow them exponentially to become a fierce counterbalance to the fossil fuel industry. It must include strategies that create an environment so toxic for the climate pollution industry, its executives, its politicians and the financial institutions that back them that business as usual becomes impossible. Furthermore, this agenda must be rooted in principles of justice and ecological sanity as well. Lastly, it must be willing to take risks, do jail time and say what doesn’t want to be heard by friends and enemies alike.

People are hungry to do more than send emails to President Obama asking him, once again, to do the right thing or march in a permitted march. Real change won’t come from professional activists rooted in the existing political and economic system; it’ll come from a mobilization of people willing to engage in risk and sacrifice.

Scott Parkin is a climate organizer working with Rising Tide North America. You can follow him on Twitter at @sparki1969

Continue reading

Frogs in Action Against Tar Sands!

frog meme copy

Inspired by friends taking a halt to tar sands mining in Utah for years, we frogs sprung into action this morning. At 8AM, just before the work crew arrived, we hopped out of the woods and helped a comrade u-lock their neck to the front gate of the area where machinery is stored.

Our friend had also covered themselves with tar sands to symbolize how millions of frogs and other animals downriver—humans included—would be impacted by tar sands mining. Today we take a stand for all the living beings down the Colorado River who would be poisoned by tar sands toxins and who’s water would be stolen by industry.

We come from various downriver habitats that would be severely impacted. Our journey here symbolized the mass migrations that so many species have been forced to endure. Braving the desert dryness and heat helped us to realize more deeply what it is like to be an endangered or threatened species with nowhere left to go.

Our action followed on the heels of a human-lead action that halted work for most of an afternoon last Wednesday. (insert hyperlink)

When workers approached the gate, they were clearly confused. Our comrade told them we would not allow work to happen today, to which  they replied, “But you’re a frog.” They debated among themselves about calling the cops, but ultimately decided against it. We imagined the 911 call: “Officer, we have a frog situation…”

Work began late that morning after they decided to extract our friends on their own, but we all felt it was a win. Tar sands resistance happens not just in big, high-profile action camps, but in repeated daily acts that challenge the powerful and take a stand for all living beings. Maybe next time it will be the chipmunks or the rabbits rising up, and when they do, we will be right there, on the front-lines, with them.

Ribbits and Solidarity,
The Frogs