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Oil Shale and Tar Sands

Why Utah?

Although oil shale deposits are found in Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming, tar sands are found only in Utah. Geologic features unique to Utah are significant and of great concern. Many of the oil shale and tar sands deposits in Utah are located close enough to the surface to allow for open-pit mining, something that would be prohibitively expensive in neighboring states. Also, Utah's politicians have encouraged tar sands and oil shale development at the expense of lands, air, wildlife, and climate. Thus, Utah has become the central front for commercial-scale development of these dirty fuel sources.

Fact Sheets

Western Resource Advocates is serving a vital role as the only line of defense protecting one of the West's special places; the Book Cliffs of eastern Utah are being targeted for commercial development of oil shale and tar sands. Situated in a broad basin south of the Uinta Mountains on the Colorado Plateau, the Book Cliffs area contains some of Utah's most important wildlife habitat, and a spectacular stretch of the Green River vital to tourism and recreation. Western Resource Advocates is the only organization challenging the development of oil shale and tar sands in Utah, and because of our work-to-date, not one shovel of dirt has been turned on these destructive projects.

What are oil shale and tar sands?

Oil shale and tar sands are ancient fossil deposits containing petroleum precursors that, with significant energy and water, can be converted into transportation fuels.

Oil Shale

Oil shale is not oil, but a rock that contains a compound called kerogen. It has been calculated that, per ton, oil shale contains one-tenth the energy of crude oil. Learn more

Eesti Energia oil shale plant
Estonian oil shale plant

Tar Sands

Tar sands are deposits of not-quite-oil, a mixture of sand, clay, and bitumen that can be extracted and processed using either vast stripmining operations or in situ underground heating techniques.

Learn more

Earth Energy Resources Tar Sands Mine
Neon green runoff sits at the bottom of a test tar sands pit at Earth Energy Resources' PR Spring mine in Utah. WRA filed an appeal on EER's commercial tar sands mine permit due to concerns about groundwater contamination from mine operations.

Conversion of either of these inferior hydrocarbons to a usable fuel would generate monumental problems with toxic waste, air pollution, groundwater contamination, and large scale surface disruption and would come at the expense of a diversified economy.