Protesters at a U.S. Oil Sands tar sands test-pit earlier this month. [File photo]

The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday, June 24 threw out a lawsuit from Western Resource Advocates and Moab-based Living Rivers on the grounds that the suit was not filed in a timely manner.

The environmental groups had sought to appeal a permit issued to U.S. Oil Sands by the Utah Division of Water Quality (DWQ). In its decision the court did not address the validity of the legal claims made against the DWQ.

Living Rivers executive director John Weisheit said that his group was precluded from making its legal appeal in the required 30-day window.

“They never provided the necessary public notice,” Weisheit said.

He indicated that he still hopes to have the merits of the case heard.

“We are discussing the issues with the Attorney General and the Utah Division of Water Quality, and we will submit new information to the state,” he said.

Last week’s legal decision is another green light for U.S. Oil Sands which possesses permits to strip mine up to 32,000 acres of the Tavaputs Plateau in the Book Cliffs area of Uintah and Grand counties in coming years.

Environmentalists claim that the operation will severely impact the environment by polluting groundwater, displacing wildlife, and destroying large swaths of wilderness.

“This tar sands mine would cause the swift obliteration of multiple ecosystems, as well as contribute to the global climate change crisis,” activist Jessica Lee with Utah Tar Sands Resistance said.

“(With strip-mining) you’re talking about the literal annihilation of every living thing,” said Chris Baird, a former Grand County Council member and the current executive director of the Canyonlands Watershed Council. “This is as serious as anything has ever gotten in Grand County.”

Regarding the surge in activism at the site, U.S.Oil Sands CEO Cameron Todd told the Moab Sun News in June, “Our greatest concern is public safety.” He said he wants the public to know that, “The company operates in full compliance with all laws and regulations and adheres to the highest of safety and environmental responsibility.”

Typical extraction requires immersion, and agitation of the sands in hot water, but because of the scarcity of water at the proposed mine site, U.S. Oil Sands plans to use a new, citrus-based chemical solvent to extract the bitumen from the sand. The mine’s operation, according to their permit application, will still require the use of 116 gallons of water per minute.

U.S Oil Sands said their operations will financially benefit the state and local communities. “The project will pay significant taxes and royalties to the state,” Todd said. “Much of this has been earmarked for education.  Many of these funds will flow back to local towns and counties.”

The strip mine site sits approximately 70 miles northeast of Moab, at an elevation of 8,000 feet in a diverse, high-desert ecosystem that includes pinyon, juniper, and aspen trees, and is also home to wildlife such as deer, elk, and buffalo. The area is commonly used by hunters.

Protestors have maintained a 24/7 “protest vigil” at the site in recent weeks.

Weisheit says that beyond the environmental concerns about the project, investors should be very skeptical about the long term profitability of “dirty energy.”

“I would advise investors to be putting their money into solar panels instead,” he said.

Utah Supreme Court throws out legal challenge regarding groundwater on technicality; Environmentalists vow to re-group