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Utah's 'Green' Oil Sands

Can Tar Sands Really be Green?

Written by Adam Sharp
Posted March 29, 2010 at 9:31PM

With oil hovering around $80, interest in U.S. oil sands projects is picking up again. One small Canadian firm, Earth Energy Resources (EER), has its eye on Utah's tar pits. They've acquired lease rights to 6,000 acres in the Uintah Basin, located in the eastern part of the state.

There's nothing new about a company trying to capitalize on the massive tar sand reserves beneath Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado — which some estimates put at up to a trillion (very hard to reach) barrels.

What's interesting is that EER claims they can extract the bitumen in an environmentally-friendly way.

Eco-Friendly Oil Sands?

EER claims to have invented a green extraction process. I'm intrigued but skeptical. American environmentalists are going to make it tough for any oil sands projects to get a foothold in Utah (or anywhere else in the US). Before/after pics like this one from Alberta have environmentalists on high alert:


EER plans to use a solvent to extract the bitumen, which they claim is far cleaner than traditional methods. They also plan to dispose of the by-products in the same pits they came from.

Current processing methods use steam injection, which requires a lot of energy and generates excess contaminated water. EER thinks they have a better method, which is detailed in the technology section on their website.

CERI Study on "Greening" Tar Sand

A study by the Canadian Energy Research Institute could also put a damper on EER's plans. CERI spent 18 months studying what it would take to make oil sands comparable to traditional oil in terms of pollution. The results: Oil would have to be around $105/barrel to allow profitable extraction.

Hard to say if technologies like this will pan out, but it's worth keeping an eye on. We'll keep you updated.

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