Archive for the ‘environmental racism’ Category

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.

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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.

Black Mesa banner during impoundments,(WNV / NaBahe Kateny Keediniihii)

Black Mesa banner during impoundments,(WNV / NaBahe Kateny Keediniihii)

By , Global Justice Ecology Project

In Waging Nonviolence, Liza Minno Bloom reported on recent federal campaigns to forcibly impound sheep herded by Navajo living in the Hopi Partition Lands (HPL) of Black Mesa in NE Arizona. (Yep, impound, like a car, for us city folk.)

The government claims that the livestock were impounded because there are too many and they were overgrazing and harming the land, but the weight of history and the violence of what’s currently happening suggests a different reason.

The sheep being impounded from the communities on Black Mesa indicate the continued use of scorched earth policies by the federal government and the continued use of Black Mesa as a resource colony for ever more unsustainable Southwestern cities.

More specifically, Minno explains the history and current state of Peabody Energy on the land, going back to the 1970s when the Partition Lands were created, forcing relocation off of the HPL and ushering the way for a grab of the coal-rich land. The herders facing the pressure continue to live on these lands despite the forced relocation.

She also clarifies that Peabody Energy now wants to expand mining into the areas used by the Navajo herders that are being targeted.

The three families targeted so far need to pay about $1000-2000 to get their sheep back, but also have to sign a condition of release and sell the majority of the sheep right away.

Minno writes,

Currently, Peabody seeks to combine the Kayenta Mine [their current coal mine] and the NGS [Navajo Generating Station] leases under one renewal permit that would allow the facilities to continue operating past their 2019 deadline for expiration. Since, according to the Department of the Interior, the Kayenta Mine lease area will provide only enough coal to power NGS until 2026, part of the lease renewal includes expanding mining into the lands adjacent to the Kayenta Mine and reopening the defunct Black Mesa Mine — the equipment for which remains intact on Black Mesa. Instead of calling it a re-opening of the Black Mesa Mine, however, they are referring to the expanded permit area as the Kayenta Mine Complex. Were this approved, it would mean further incursion into the HPL, which is occupied by the Dineh relocation resisters and their sheep. This explains the impetus for the impoundments.

The history Minno gives going back to the 1974 Navajo-Hopi Settlement Act is definitely required reading, but most important is what’s going on right now and the work needed to keep the coal in the ground and the herders on the land.

A banner that was displayed on Black Mesa during the impoundments in October. (WNV / Liza Minno Bloom)

A banner that was displayed on Black Mesa during the impoundments in October. (WNV / NaBahe Kateny Keediniihii)

By , Waging Nonviolence

This October, as many Americans returned to work after their Columbus Day holiday, rural Dineh, or Navajo, communities in the Black Mesa region of Northeastern Arizona were rocked by an invasion. SWAT teams descended upon this remote region, navigating unpaved, washed out roads, while drones and armed helicopters flew overhead.

Why? They were there for the sheep.

For nearly two months, Hopi Rangers, with the backing of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs, or BIA, and the Department of the Interior, have been impounding the livestock of the Dineh residents of the area now known as the “Hopi Partition Lands,” or HPL. The official justification given is that residents’ herds exceed the size allowed to them in permits, and that they are, therefore, overgrazing and causing harm to the land in a period of prolonged drought.

Many residents, however, point to the fact that Peabody Energy’s coal mining operations on Black Mesa are the more probable source of land damage and drought than overgrazing. In a letter to the Navajo Nation Tribal Council regarding the impoundments, members of the impacted communities wrote: “We believe this assault on our lives and theft of our only sustenance and livelihood is being funded and instigated by the federal government … through their continued campaign to gain access to the resources on our ancestral homelands by forcing us off the land.”

Currently, Peabody is seeking to expand its surface mining operations on Black Mesa into the areas targeted by impoundments. According to Louise Benally of Big Mountain, Ariz., “Impoundments pave the way for coal development, which is changing the climate forever.”

Scorched earth campaigns — or efforts to weaken a people by separating them from their food source or decimating their infrastructure — have long been employed by the U.S. government against indigenous peoples. These campaigns are always a precursor to a forced removal to open native lands to non-native settlement or corporate use.

The sheep being impounded from the communities on Black Mesa indicate the continued use of scorched earth policies by the federal government and the continued use of Black Mesa as a resource colony for ever more unsustainable Southwestern cities.

The BIA and Hopi Rangers claim that they gave residents ample notice, beginning in mid-August, to reduce their herds. Residents themselves say that the notices were unclear and seemed to indicate that they had a year to reduce them.

The pre-dawn impoundments are often carried out aggressively and, in several cases, there have not been Navajo translators present for the Navajo-speaking residents. According to Milayia Yoe, the Hopi Rangers came to her homestead on the morning of October 28 and impounded 120 of her aunt’s sheep.

“They had barricades set up at the top of the hill with two police units,” she recounted. “When we tried to get around the barricade they chased us for two miles, trying to hit us with their trucks, and then they drew their guns at us.”

Impoundments are causing fear and stress amongst the Dineh on the HPL.

“The way that the rangers are treating the people goes against the Dineh way,” said Big Mountain resident Marie Gladue. “It is very taboo to point a gun at somebody. They are traumatizing an already traumatized community. If overgrazing was actually the issue, they could educate people. But it’s not.”

Beyond being a major food source, traditional Dineh consider sheep sacred.

“Ever since I was a baby I was carried on a horse to herd sheep,” said Jack Woody, an elder from Red Willow Springs, Ariz. “I have herded all my life and I am in my 80s. You have the livestock in your heart, and they want to take that away.”

NaBahe Kateny Keediniihii of Big Mountain described how livestock are a part of ritual life on Black Mesa, saying, “Sitting and sleeping on a sheep skin once represented identity. Rubbing mutton grease on your legs in prayer, and using the wool for fiber are central aspects of Dineh culture.”

Thus far, rangers have impounded three families’ herds, totaling over 300 sheep. In order to get their sheep out of impoundment, families are required to pay, on average, between $1,000-$2,000, and some — as a “condition of release” — are being made to sign a statement identifying themselves as trespassers on their own homelands. To make matters worse, the rangers are telling residents that they cannot return their sheep to the HPL. As a result, many of the impounded sheep have been auctioned or sold.

Residents are organizing against this current threat to their sovereignty with several strategies. Some are securing their homesites and some are researching what legal recourse they have. They are calling for unity during this time and will soon be releasing a national call to protest at BIA and Department of Interior offices.

On October 30, several community members gathered in Window Rock, Ariz., the capital of the Navajo Nation, to meet with Navajo Nation President Ben Shelley and demand an end to impoundments. Others stayed at home and figured out ways to hide their herds, in case they were targeted next.

The wide-scale impoundments and the charge of trespassing point to the threat that the Dineh living on the HPL have faced for the last 40 years, namely forced relocation.

(more…)

Nihígaal béé Íina: Our Journey For Existence

The Navajo Nation sits on one of the richest energy corridors in the United States, and for close to a century, we have been on the frontline on resource colonization to provide cheap energy and water to the cities in the Southwest. Since the 1920’s, our land and people have been sacrificed for energy extraction for oil, gas, uranium, and coal, which is poisoning our land, water, air, and people. Despite being at the forefront of energy extraction, our people do not see its benefits; approximately 1/4 of our people today live without electricity and running water on the Navajo Nation, while our economy functions at an unemployment rate of about 60%, and our young people are leaving due to lack of opportunity. Now our people and land are facing the onset fracking and a proposed pipeline, which will transport crude oil through 130 miles in Dinétah, the emergence place of our people, in the name of “economic development”.

As young Diné people, we realize that we can’t continue on like this. We need clean air, water, and a viable lifeway for our people and for all human beings. In facing this crisis of our future, the idea of walking to raise awareness was born.

We are walking to honor the legacy of our ancestors during Hwééldi, who, a 150 years ago, were forced to walk hundreds of miles in the winter during away from our homelands in the winter to be imprisoned for four years in the name of American colonization. During this time of great suffering, our ancestors thought of our homeland, mountains, and prayed that future generations would carry on our way of life. It is in their memory and out of this profound love for the land that we are walking. It is time to heal from the legacy and trauma of colonization that we having been living under for too long.

It is our intention to walk throughout the Navajo Nation to document both the beauty of land and people and how this is being desecrated by resource extraction. We will do this through a social media campaign and a documentary films. Along our route, we will visit communities to listen to the issues our people are facing and share information about the state of water, air, land, and health, as our communities often have very little access to media or information about these issues. Our hope is that we can help to inspire our people to become engage in the care our land, air, and water, and culture so that we will have a future as Diné.

On January 6, 2015, we will start from the fireplace and doorway of Diné Bikéyah, at Dził Nahodiłii (Huerfano, NM) and Ch’ool’i’i , the emergence place of our people, which is threatened by fracking. There are over 400 proposed drill sites and within the past couple months over 100 have been started in the region. From there we will walk to communities through the Eastern Agency, and then to Tsoodzil (Mt. Taylor, Grants, NM) which also threaten by uranium mining. This first leg of our journey will be nearly 300 miles, and will take us approximately 3 weeks.

In the seasons to come, we will extend our walk to the other mountains and regions of Diné Bikéyah. To Doo’o’k’osliid (San Francisco Peak, Flagstaff, AZ) in the Spring, the Dibé Ntsáá (Hesperus, CO) in the Summer, and in the fall we will go all the way to Sisnajiní (Blanca Peak, Alamosa, CO). All combined, we will be walking over 1000 miles in 2015.

We are asking for support to cover the expenses of this journey through 2015 including gear, food, media/outreach and educational materials.

Gear – It is our intention to use as little fossil fuels as possible during our journey, so we want to carry as much as possible, therefore we are asking for funding for packs and lightweight gear including sleeping bags, tents, etc… We will also be facing extreme weather during this walk, so funding will also be used for jackets, thermals, and other cold/extreme weather clothing. We also will be needing socks, good shoes, and first aid supplies to keep us going.

Food – food to feed our walkers daily and our support crew.

Media/Outreach – a major component of this walk is to raise awareness about the issues we are facing and document the impacts of resource colonization, so we need funding for media equipment and too get the word out via internet, newspaper, radio, and television.

Educational Materials – this is to cover the expense of printing materials and documents to distribute to communities as we pass through. We want to share as much information as possible

Axhé’hee! Thank you for your support!

Fundraiser | Facebook

nihigaalbeeiina [at] gmail [dot] com

Action to shut down Utah tar sands mine, August 7, 2013. (Photo: Steve Liptay for 350.org)

By Rachael Stoeve, Truthout | Report

The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline has launched Canadian tar sands into mainstream American discourse, but few people seem to know that a tar sands mine is now being constructed in the United States. The project is being managed by former Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown and Root.

The mine will be excavated in PR Spring, a remote piece of wilderness on the Tavaputs Plateau in eastern Utah. Facing northeast from Arches National Park, 109 miles away, one can see the plateau stretching along the horizon. The mine will sit just above the spring that the area is named for; a BLM-managed campground is nearby.

The area is part of the Colorado River watershed, which supplies water to more than 30 million people. The land is owned by US Oil Sands, Inc., a Calgary-based company with a 100 percent interest in 32,005 acres of Utah tar sands leases. According to the company’s website, their leases comprise the largest commercial tar sands stake in the United States.

The company boasts of its “unique and environmentally friendly extraction process,” which uses a citrus-based solvent called d-Limonene to separate oil from the rest of the material brought up in extraction. But a 2012 report by InsideClimate News questioned the safety of the technique, noting that while the FDA lists small amounts as generally safe, “in large doses, laboratory rats got sick when exposed to the chemical.”

On January 20, 2014, US Oil Sands announced in a press release that it had selected engineering firm Kellogg Brown and Root to manage the construction of the tar sands mine and facilities at PR Spring. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton, a private military contractor specializing in oilfield services that has been the subject of controversy for its ties to Dick Cheney, who served as the corporation’s CEO before becoming vice president of the United States, and for its role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

KBR is not without its own controversies. In March 2008, The Boston Globe reported that the company “avoided paying hundreds of millions of dollars in federal Medicare and Social Security taxes by hiring workers through shell companies” based in the Cayman Islands.

In 2009, an investigation by the US Department of Justice led to charges that KBR had spent the past decade “authorizing, promising and paying” bribes to Nigerian officials to secure prime construction contracts. The company pled guilty and paid a $402 million criminal fine.

When it comes to environmental and health matters, of most concern is KBR’s alleged use of “burn pits” to improperly dispose of waste in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2010, 57 burn-pit lawsuits filed by soldiers across the United States were consolidated and brought before the US District Court in Maryland.

According to the website of Motley Rice, the law firm representing the plaintiffs in tandem with attorney Susan Burke, the lawsuit alleges that health problems suffered by the plaintiffs upon their return to the United States are due to their exposure to burn pits operated by KBR. “Plaintiffs also allege these contractors used open-air burn pits, as opposed to other, safer alternatives, to increase profits,” Motley Rice said on its website. “Items disposed of in burn pits may have included hazardous medical waste, hydraulic fluids, lithium batteries, tires, trucks and more.”

After the district court dismissed the case in February 2013, Motley Rice appealed. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit voided the dismissal in March 2014 and sent the case back to the district court for a retrial.

KBR’s construction quality has also been called into question. Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have been electrocuted by faulty wiring installed by KBR. According to an investigation by The New York Times, KBR’s management did nothing to rectify the issue, despite complaints from multiple employees. One employee, the Times said, “provided e-mail messages and other documents showing that he had complained to KBR and the government that logs were created to make it appear that nonexistent electrical safety systems were properly functioning.”

For Utah, the effect of KBR’s participation in mine construction remains to be seen. According to the Project On Government Oversight, a watchdog group that tracks and investigates government misconduct, the firm has committed 30 known instances of corporate misconduct both domestically and internationally in the past 18 years.

Given this track record, why did US Oil Sands select KBR to build the mine? In an email, Jack Copping, manager of corporate development at US Oil Sands, said only that “KBR was chosen through a bidding process based on the expertise of the local Salt Lake branch and the pedigree of the individuals involved.”

When asked how important KBR’s history of questionable practices were to US Oil Sands’ decision-making process and ultimate choice, Copping did not respond.

US Oil Sands has been engaged in preliminary construction of the mine throughout 2014. On November 18, 2014, the company issued a press release saying the mine is on track to begin commercial production of tar sands in 2015. Environmental advocacy groups in Utah have been fighting the mine’s development since 2009; though litigation and civil disobedience have not stopped the project, groups such as Utah Tar Sands Resistance continue to actively protest the mine’s construction.

The Vigil Continues! The plateau needs us, and we will do our best to fulfill the commitment we have made to this land, which has already given us so much.

Video: Work stopped ALL WEEK at tar sands strip mine!

National Environmental Groups Stand With Utah Land Defenders

PRESS RELEASE: Opponents to enforce shutdown of tar sands mine today (July 21st)

UPDATE: ALL 21 LAND DEFENDERS HAVE BEEN RELEASED.

Utah Tar Sands

After a massive direct action protest today at the site of U.S. Oil Sands’ tar sands strip-mining site, a total of 21 were arrested and are currently awaiting charges at Uintah County Jail in Vernal, Utah. In addition to protestors, those acting as legal observers, independent media, and jail support were arrested, as well as several indigenous and trans individuals whose safety we are deeply concerned about.

Early this morning land defenders locked themselves to equipment being used to clear-cut and grade an area designated for the tar sands’ companies processing plant, as well as a fenced “cage” used to store the equipment. Others formed a physical blockade with their bodies to keep work from happening, and to protect those locked-down to the equipment. Banners were also hung off the cage that read: “You are trespassing on Ute land” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance.”

13 people were arrested for locking to equipment. An additional six people were arrested after sitting in the road to prevent the removal of those being taken away in two police vans. Two of the protesters arrested were injured. One was taken a nearby hospital to be treated, while the other is being treated at the Uintah County Jail. The nature of their injuries is not being disclosed by the county sheriffs.

Two additional people were arrested when they arrived at Uintah Country Jail to provide support to the land defenders inside. An estimated 10 armed deputies with police dogs were standing outside the jail wearing bullet proof vests. Those at the jail to provide support were told that the deputies were there to “deter” any supporters from actually coming to the jail.

Currently all 21 individuals are still being processed and held.

Support these brave land defenders who put their hearts and bodies on the line by donating to their legal fund.

Rising Tide North America is handling donations through The Action Network. Donate to the land defenders’ legal support fund using this secure link