SALT LAKE CITY— The Trump administration pushed forward today with leasing tar sands across 2,100 acres of public lands in northeastern Utah near the Green River, updating a plan from 2013 just weeks before leaving office. Producing fuel from tar sands generates up to twice the climate pollution and requires vastly more water than doing so from conventional oil.
“It’s ludicrous to destroy public land and mine the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel in the face of a quickly worsening climate crisis in the Colorado River Basin,” said Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This 11th-hour plan shows just how backward the Trump administration’s fossil fuel programs are. President-elect Biden’s promised leasing ban can’t come soon enough.”
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to ban new oil and gas leasing on federal public lands and waters when he takes office on Jan. 20.
“The rural West has so much to lose in the face of climate change — especially water,” said Megan Kelly, energy program manager at the Grand Canyon Trust. “In an already dry region, carbon and water intensive tar sands mining couldn't be further from the public interest.”
Today’s plan updates an environmental assessment issued for the tar sands leases in 2013. If approved, the Bureau of Land Management would auction leases for tar sands extraction adjacent to 16,200-acres of tar sands leases on state lands.
Conservation groups opposed the 2013 plan because it threatened greater sage-grouse and endangered fish in the nearby Green River. Tar sands mining also pollutes surface and groundwater and worsens air and climate pollution. Fossil fuel pollution in the Uinta Basin and the climate crisis in the Colorado River Basin have both worsened since the 2013 plan.
The Bureau of Land Management has given the public 15 days to comment on the revised plan, with comments due Dec. 24.
Fossil fuel production on public lands causes about a quarter of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a nationwide federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce carbon emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate-policy proposals in recent years.
Federal fossil fuels that have not been leased to the industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution; those already leased to the industry contain up to 43 billion tons. Pollution from already-leased fossil fuels on federal lands, if fully developed, would essentially exhaust the U.S. carbon budget for staying below warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Existing laws give presidents the authority to end new federal fossil fuel leasing. Hundreds of organizations have already petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore leasing. President-elect Biden has committed to “banning new oil and gas leasing on public lands and waters.”