Twenty-one activists in Utah were arrested Monday after they chained themselves to fences and equipment at a site planned to become the first to mine tar sands in the United States.
The activists, who were released on bail after spending Monday night in jail, are facing possible charges of trespassing, conspiracy to escape, and interfering with arrest, the Salt Lake Tribune reports. The 21 arrested were part of a group of about 80 protesters with the Utah Tar Sands Resistance group, who set up a blockade at the PR Spring mine site.
The activists say one protester was injured while he was being arrested and was targeted by sheriff’s deputies because he was filming the protest. Uintah County Sheriff Jeff Merrell said that the effort to arrest the protesters “became physical” after protesters resisted arrest. Protesters claim they were “grabbed in an aggressive manner” and that some were “thrown to the ground” by police, while the Sheriff’s office says one deputy was punched in the head by a protester.
Calgary, Alberta-based U.S. Oil Sands, the company that plans to mine for tar sands at the Utah site, has been cutting down trees and clearing vegetation from the site to get it ready for mining. So far, though, no tar sands oil has been extracted. The protesters, who erected banners with messages like “You are trespassing on Ute land” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance,” wanted to highlight the environmental damage tar sands mining will impose on the area.
“These projects do nothing but devastate the land and pollute the water and air,” Tar Sands Resistance spokeswoman Jessica Lee said.
Tar Sands Resistance has been working since 2012 to stop plans for tar sands mining in Utah, organizing protests and announcing in late May that they would be holding a “permanent protest vigil” at the mine site. About 20 protesters set up a vigil near the site soon after U.S. Tar Sands announced in mid-May that it had enough funding to begin mine operations, and the stakeout has remained ever since, with additional protests like the one on Monday also taking place at the site.
Tar sands has been labeled the “dirtiest type of liquid fuel,” one whose extraction creates toxic holding ponds that have proven deadly to birds and requires four barrels of water to make each barrel of oil, a high demand that’s particularly concerning in dry Utah. Tar sands extraction could also put groundwater at risk — one University of Utah scientist warned in 2012 that the same tailings ponds that have killed birds in Alberta, Canada could also leech toxic chemicals into groundwater.
Extracting tar sands oil is also at least three times as carbon-intensive as conventional crude oil. The PR Spring site encompasses more than 5,900 acres and U.S. Oil Sands plans to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day.
Lee said Tar Sands Resistance plans to continue protesting the planned mining site.