The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering allowing a private company to build a 130 mile pipeline and greatly increase drilling near Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. Chaco is a World Heritage Site known for magnificent architecture built 1000 years ago by the ancestors of today’s Pueblo Indians. There is concern among archaeologists that damage could occur to the wider cultural landscape around the canyon, erasing part of the legacy of these fascinating ancient people. Mike Eisenfeld of San Juan Citizens Alliance takes us on a tour of the exploratory drilling already underway.

A group of Diné on the first day of a 200-mile walk through their ancestral homeland. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

A group of Diné on the first day of a 200-mile walk through their ancestral homeland. (Photo: ©2015 Julie Dermansky)

By Julie Dermansky, DeSmogBlog

Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale, are tell-tale indicators of the fracking boom.

Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land.

The region is known to the Diné (Navajo) as Dinétah, the land of their ancestors.  It is home of the Bisti Badlands and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site.

Click here to read the full article…

Photo courtesy of Skytruth

Drilling in the Uinta Basin near the town of Ouray. Drilling locations appear as bright spots and are connected by a network of roads and pipeline corridors. / Photo courtesy of Skytruth

By Robin Cooley, Earth Justice

The people living in the Uinta Basin in eastern Utah are the unwitting participants in a massive scientific experiment.  What happens when you put more than 11,000 oil and gas wells in a geologic basin and then seal off the air for days or weeks on end?  And the initial results are alarming—smog pollution that exceeds the federal standard set to protect public health by a whopping 89 percent.

During wintertime inversions, when cold air is trapped near the ground by warm air above, the Uinta Basin suffers from a thick blanket of smog that rivals Los Angeles on a bad day. In its recent State of the Air Report, the American Lung Association gave Uintah County an “F” for ozone pollution, the key ingredient of smog. Scientists have compared the effects of ozone pollution to getting a sunburn on your lungs. It is most harmful to children, seniors, and people with heart and lung problems.

In the Uinta Basin, fracking is the primary culprit. A recent study shows that oil and gas development in the Uinta Basin is responsible for smog-forming emissions (volatile organic compounds) that are equivalent to the amount coming out of the tailpipe of 100 million cars and trucks.

The EPA, the state of Utah, and the energy companies are spending millions to study the problem. The Utah Department of Health is also investigating after a local midwife raised concerns about a possible increase in infant death rates.

But studying this problem is not enough to protect people living and working in the Uinta Basin. EPA must take the steps necessary to ensure that the air is clean. In 2012, the EPA refused to designate the Uinta Basin as a “nonattainment area” for ozone, which would trigger the state’s obligation to develop a clean-up plan under the Clean Air Act. On October 21, 2014, Earthjustice went to federal court in Washington, D.C., on behalf of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, WildEarth Guardians and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, to argue that it is time for the EPA to stop dragging its feet and start protecting public health. Given the ongoing oil and gas boom in the Uinta Basin, there is no time to waste.

(EnviroNews Utah) — Jan. 8, 2015, Salt Lake City, Utah — 25 activists from the group Utah Tar Sands Resistance (UTSR) were finally sentenced today in a Vernal courtroom in Uintah County, Utah. Most of the individuals sentenced were arrested on July 23, 2014 after chaining themselves to mining equipment inside of America’s first approved commercial tar sands mine operated by Canadian company U.S. Oil Sands.

Click here to watch the video interview…

Five more UTSR members were arrested in September of 2014 adding to the total of individuals being prosecuted, and these protestors had been waiting in the limbo of the criminal justice system for the last several months. Six of the 25 were slapped with felony rioting charges and were potentially facing long terms of incarceration.

Click here to read more…

A new oil pipeline that would quadruple oil production in New Mexico’s San Juan Basin threatens the internationally recognized Chaco Cultural area and the Lybrook Badlands wilderness.

From The Sierra Club

Denver-based SaddleButte LLC has applied to the Bureau of Land Management for a permit to build the 130-mile Piñon Oil Pipeline that would cut between Chaco National Historical Park and outlier Pueblo Pintado from Lybrook down to I-40.

The pipeline would permanently cut through federal, state, Navajo, and private lands, opening the floodgates to thousands of new oil wells, millions of gallons of contaminated groundwater, damaged archeological sites, diminished recreation economy, dangerous accidents and further climate disruption.

The BLM has agreed to hold additional public meetings and extend public comment on the proposed Piñon Pipeline.

Make your voice heard by using this form to ask the BLM Farmington Office to reject the Piñon Pipeline permit. Please edit the subject line of the sample note and, if you can, edit the note with your own first sentence — personalized messages are often taken more seriously.

Share this action on Facebook | Share this action on Twitter

EF! Note: We have little faith in online petitions and public appeal processes. Direct action gets the goods!

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.

tar sands ute landsToday 25 people arrested during 2014 protest actions resolved their criminal cases. No contest pleas to misdemeanor charges were received by the court from all defendants after lengthy negotiations between prosecutors and the land defenders’ attorneys. The heavy-handed and ridiculous felony charges mentioned below were all eliminated and reduced during plea negotiations. These 25 land defenders are now on probation but vow to continue the fight to protect the Colorado Plateau from extreme energy projects! Below are two personal statements regarding the persecution, from Victor Puertas and Camila Ibanez, two of the most fearless forces of nature that we’ve ever met. 

Victor Puertas:

Finally after so many months, tomorrow is our court date. 6 months after and the consequences are finally clear: A charge of third-degree felony riot punishable by up to five years in prison. I’m also charged with interference with an arresting officer, which is a class-A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. I’m on the watch-list of this corporation as a ”dangerous, radical environmentalist” (lol), lawyers of this corporation are telling the government that I should be deported out of the country.

I have been through a lot of BS, attacks and criticism from people that don’t have the same level of commitment, people that don’t understand our sacred duty as children of the PachaMama. People that talk a lot but at the end they will never risk their own safety or privileges. Some of them weren’t even there but of course as ”radicals” they feel qualified to criticize me, our actions and our event that day.

I truly believe that our three years campaign in defense of this land and against tar-sands on the Tavaputs Plateau, our events, actions and our strong commitment are crucial to the problems that US Oil Sands is having right now, their stocks are going down, they’re losing a lot of money.

In the end I’m just guilty of protecting this land and stand up for my people, my compas. I don’t regret not even a single second of that day. I took my chances, I face the consequences but I always keep my head up, for me this is a physical battle but also a spiritual one and the only important thing is to honor this land and to honor my ancestors, to be worthy of their warrior spirit.

So whatever happens, this struggle continues and we only just begun, we are here for the long run!!

Wañuylla, wañuy wañucha, amaraq aparuwaychu, karuraqmi puririnay, runaykunatan maskani, karuraqmi puririnay. No Tar-Sands on Indigenous Land!!!

Camila Ibanez: 

6 months later, today is my court day for the alleged actions against the first-ever tar sand mine in the United States. Alongside of 24 other land defenders, I am one of the six people being accused of third-degree riot felony, along with a class A misdemeanor. US Oil sands is quick to label us as criminals, and terrorist. They are saying whatever they can in attempt to get the community to see us as so. The legislators, CEOs, and other fat takers have no intention in seeing themselves as criminals, “domestic terrorists”, destroyers of the lands.

Utah is one of the states that oil corporations have lobbied hard for in order to pass legislation that heightens charges against protestors. Which makes sense when you look at how many tar sands deposits lie in Utah.

As we struggle for black liberation and indigenous resistance, we must also fight to free Pachamama, who is suffering from white supremacy and capitalism. Our communities hold wisdom and answers and we find them when we redefine wealth, value, love.

For all y’all that know. I’ll be headed back to the plateau in so called Utah in a few months to resume the work that needs to be done to stop the tar sands extraction.

So let’s take my sister Sabaah’s solid advice and let’s get free. Cause there is no justice on stolen lands for stolen bodies. We need to work together.

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

A file photo of an anti-tar sands protests that took place in Utah in 2013 . (Photo: Geoff Liesik/KSL TV)

A file photo of an anti-tar sands protests that took place in Utah in 2013 . (Photo: Geoff Liesik/KSL TV)

Stemming from a protest last year, six of those arrested for trying to shut down tar sands operation now face the possibility of years in jail

By Jon Queally, Common Dreams

Of the 21 protesters arrested in July of last year in Utah for participating in a direct action aimed at stopping operations at the first tar sands mining operation in the United States, six have now been charged with ‘rioting’ by local prosecutors.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the six—Jesse J. Fruhwirth, Camila A. Ibanez, Damien T. Luzzo, Laura M. Gottesdiener, Daniel J. Gruppo and Victor E. Puertas— could face harsh punishments after being charged with interference with an arresting officer, a class-A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, and the crime of “rioting,” a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

Fourteen others who were arrested at the protest were charged with the lesser count of criminal trespass, while one individual was charged with refusing to obey the command of a police officer.

Responding to the elevated charges of the six named, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, a group which helped organize the nonviolent protest, asked, “When did a peaceful sit-in become a felony riot?”

All of those charged are expected to enter pleas to the local district court later this week.

The July 2014 action, as Common Dreams reported at the time, involved roughly 80 climate justice activists who entered the construction site operated by the Calgary-based US Oils Sands corporation and unfurled a banner which read “You are trespassing on Ute land,” referring the project’s encroachment on native land, and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.” Later, some of the group locked themselves to equipment and others blocked a nearby road.

In a statement released on behalf of the protesters in the wake of their initial arrests last year, spokesperson Jessica Lee said the US Oil Sands project in Utah “perfectly demonstrates capitalism’s brazen disregard for the climate crisis, human and tribal rights and rights of the planet itself to be free of dangerous corporate parasites.”

Recounting the incident more recently, the Tribune reports:

Deputies arrested 13 of [the activists] and loaded them into white county vans, according to activists’ social media posts.

But when one of the vans approached protesters who had retreated to the main road, those protesters sat down in the roadway and locked their arms, blocking the vans, according to the charges.

“They started chanting that they wanted us to let their people go,” a Uintah County sheriff’s deputy wrote in a jail document.

The officers warned the protesters several times and asked them to disperse, but the group “advanced on our location,” according to the charges. That’s when deputies arrested Fruhwirth, Ibanez, Luzzo, Gottesdiener, Gruppo and Puertas, during which all of them became violent and resisted the officers, the charges add.

And the local KSL News reports:

Officials with U.S. Oil Sands have said that 200 exploratory wells at the mine site show that 190 million barrels of oil can be successfully recovered. The company holds leases to nearly 6,000 acres of school trust lands in northeastern Utah.

Crews are currently doing site preparation work at the mine. U.S. Oil Sands expects to begin mining operations by the end of 2015.

Those charged in connection with July’s protest listed addresses in Utah, Arizona, California, Illinois, Michigan, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Oregon and Wisconsin when they were booked into the Uintah County Jail. They are all scheduled to make their first court appearances Thursday.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) An overlook in the Book Cliffs area in Uintah and Grand County, Thursday, October 28, 2010. The Book Cliffs are a relatively remote part of Utah that face increasing encroachments from oil, gas and tar sands developments.

Courts » The activists are among 21 who are expected to enter plea agreements resulting from protest in Uintah County.

By Michael McFall | The Salt Lake Tribune

Six of 21 protesters have been charged with felony-level rioting after protesting Utah’s first commercial fuel-producing tar sands mine, with more defendants to face trespassing charges.

All 21 protesters are expected to enter plea agreements as early as Thursday, said Uintah County Attorney Mark Thomas. Soon after the arrests, the protesters’ defense attorneys began negotiations about who would be charged with what, and how to resolve those cases.

Neither Thomas nor an attorney representing some of the defendants would say to what charge the defendants might plead guilty or whether any of them would spend time in jail or prison.

They were also charged with interference with an arresting officer, which is a class-A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Fourteen other protesters have also been charged with misdemeanors; their offenses are mostly related to trespassing. One other was charged with failure to stop at the command of law enforcement, which is a third-degree felony.

Eighty protesters associated with Utah Tar Sands Resistance on July 21 physically blocked access to the equipment being stored off Pope Well Ridge Road in Uintah County, near where U.S. Oil Sands was beginning work on the mine at PR Springs. Several protesters entered a fenced enclosure and locked themselves to equipment, protester spokeswoman Jessica Lee said at the time.

Deputies arrested 13 of them and loaded them into white county vans, according to activists’ social media posts.

But when one of the vans approached protesters who had retreated to the main road, those protesters sat down in the roadway and locked their arms, blocking the vans, according to the charges.

“They started chanting that they wanted us to let their people go,” a Uintah County sheriff’s deputy wrote in a jail document.

The officers warned the protesters several times and asked them to disperse, but the group “advanced on our location,” according to the charges. That’s when deputies arrested Frurwirth, Ibanez, Luzzo, Gottesdiener, Gruppo and Puertas, during which all of them became violent and resisted the officers, the charges add.

Among them, Frurwirth has made headlines before. The local blogger and activist has protested police brutality, other environmental issues, and was active with the local Occupy movement. The Huffington Post even profiled him in October 2013.

One deputy sustained a wrist injury during Puertas’ arrest, according to the charges.

A protester also twisted his ankle while fleeing from the officers, Thomas said.

Activists said at the time that police canine units were also on the scene, including one dog that was unleashed, chasing protesters.

According to Lee, the action was staged in response to a June 12 letter sent to Calgary-based U.S. Oil Sands by the Environmental Protection Agency. That letter indicates that U.S. Oil Sands’ project, which targets state-owned minerals, includes land within the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.

Activists had been camped nearby on public land in the Book Cliffs since May, hoping to bring attention to what they say is destructive strip mining that could spread around the Uinta Basin should U.S. Oil Sands succeed.

The six protesters’ first court appearances are scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday before Judge Edwin Peterson.

At least some of the 21 are expected to enter plea agreements then, said Greg Skordas, an attorney representing some of the defendants.

“Because there were 21 of them, we’ve had to look at each person individually and try to take into account their conduct and their history, and try to fashion a plea [for] each defendant,” Skordas said.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda