SALT LAKE CITY — The Green River Formation, which includes a chunk of northeastern Utah, was singled out by the Sierra Club as one of six dangerous "climate disrupter" regions in the country due to its massive potential for fossil fuel development.
"This report highlights major new climate disrupters that have the potential to release billions of tons of new carbon dioxide into the air, negating the (Obama) administration's progress to reduce carbon pollution from vehicles and power plants," the Sierra Club report states.
Called "Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures," the analysis shows that tar sands and oil shale development in the formation would release carbon pollution that would far eclipse any strides made by Obama's implementation of strict new fuel efficiency standards for cars.
The so-called CAFE standards, or Corporate Average Fuel Economy, would conserve 12 billion barrels of oil and keep 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted over the next 12 years through a 54.5 mpg fuel standard for cars and light trucks.
Developing just 10 percent of the oil shale in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado, the Sierra Club stressed, would result in 48 billion tons of carbon dioxide — eight times more than would be saved by the new fuel standards.
“It’s clear that Utah could have the dubious distinction of becoming the dirty energy and climate disrupting capital of the United States,” said the Sierra Club’s Tim Wagner.
The report on the Utah zone emphasizes the risk from oil shale projects being pursued by Enefit of Utah and Red Leaf Resources, as well as U.S. Oil Sands’ tar sands project on the Tavaputs Plateau in Utah, and calls on the federal government to take action.
Wagner said Obama needs to abandon his "all of the above" energy strategy and instead pursue clean energy to continue the United States on its path of decreasing carbon dioxide emissions.
"We need to ramp this up dramatically, and we can do that," he said. "But, as long as we have politicians, including this White House, who continue to say we need an all-of-the-above energy portfolio, we will never get to where we need to be in terms of this problem."
The Sierra Club said Obama should invoke a moratorium on any new development of coal, gas or oil on federal lands and withdraw any of the federal lands that have been made available for oil shale and tar sands. The report also profiles Marc Thomas and Deb Walters, Utah residents who have been at the forefront of Sierra Club's fight against more energy development in the region.
"It is a very real fight with on-the-ground activists," Wagner said.
Estonia-based Enefit, which holds leases to 30,000 acres and ultimately wants to tap 2.6 billion barrels of oil in stages over 30 years, fired back at the report, saying it includes inaccuracies and mischaracterizations about the oil shale industry and the company.
It notes the photo in the report on the Enefit profile is that of a plant built in the 1920s owned by another company. In addition, the company said the carbon emissions from oil shale-derived fuels are overblown and based on broad estimates. The company also asserts water use in the process was misrepresented by the Sierra Club, as were several other elements of the company profile, such as "self-igniting" waste shale piles in Estonia that they say are not theirs and are a legacy of the Soviet era.
"Enefit realizes the Sierra Club is opposed to fossil fuel development and will never be a fan of oil shale projects like ours," it said in a prepared statement. "We also realize that companies and groups on all sides present information in nuanced ways that speak to sympathetic audiences. At the same time, however, we believe in communicating as accurately and fairly as possible and we encourage the Sierra Club to do the same."
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