Kentucky's Proposed Tar Sands Mining Puts People, Water, Wildlife at Risk
LOUISVILLE, Ky.— The Center for Biological Diversity today called on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny permits for a tar sands mining project in Logan County, Ky., that would include strip-mining wetlands and streams in pursuit of these particularly dirty and dangerous fossil fuels.
“Tar sands development destroys species’ habitat, pollutes air and water, and degrades and defiles the land,” said Jared Margolis, an attorney with the Center who focuses on the impacts of energy development on endangered species. “Tar sands mining has proven to be an environmental nightmare, and there’s simply no good reason for the government to allow habitat to be strip-mined to access these dirty fossil fuels.”
The Center’s comments highlight the danger tar sands pose not only to the local environment but to the climate. Besides being terribly destructive, tar sands development in Kentucky could dramatically increase fossil fuel emissions and push us dangerously closer to climate catastrophe.
The project also has the potential to harm endangered species, including the endangered gray bat, which is known to rely on the project site. These bats feed on insects that breed in the waters that would be bulldozed to access dirty tar sands; the food chain they rely on could be devastated by a spill of toxic tar sand oil. The project also risks harm to endangered freshwater mussels like the little-wing pearly mussel, which has been devastated by sediment from strip-mining in the region.
“Opening up Kentucky to tar sand strip-mining would only exacerbate the environmental devastation caused by coal mining in the region,” said Margolis. “These fossil fuels should be left in the ground, both for our safety now and to avoid the impending climate catastrophe.”
Arrakis Oil Recovery has applied to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for a permit to strip-mine a 144-acre site north of Russellville, Ky. to extract tar sand oil. The project would result in the filling of 5,752 linear feet of ephemeral streams, 2,105 linear feet of intermittent streams, and several wetlands. These areas provide forage habitat for endangered gray bats, as well as countless other birds, fish and insects.
Development of tar sands has been shown to be environmentally destructive and water and energy intensive. Tar sand products are highly corrosive, acidic and potentially unstable; tar sand bitumen products are characterized, when compared with conventional crudes, as being extremely heavy, having high viscosity and a high total acid number, containing significant sediment, and potentially high sulfur and heavy metal content.
Heavy oils persist longer, sink in water bodies, and can smother shorelines and the biota that live there. This viscous type of oil, once spilled into aquatic environments, creates a nightmare clean-up scenario with lasting and possibly irreversible impacts to water quality and aquatic ecosystems.
Tar sand crudes can also contain high levels of carcinogenic components, including developmental toxins, birth defect toxins, neurological toxins and reproductive toxins, known to be harmful to humans, animals, fish, plants and microbes. Studies have shown that the exploitation of tar sands releases polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) into both aquatic and terrestrial environments, which are known to be toxic and carcinogenic to aquatic species.
“Due to the nature of these heavy tar sands — the difficulty they pose regarding clean-up efforts, along with the harm they pose to the environment if spilled — the proposed project is simply not in the public interest,” the Center’s comments state. “The tremendous environmental and climate impacts, as well as the risks to the area’s waterways, wetlands and wildlife posed by the project, are simply unjustifiable and warrant denial of the requested permit for this project.”
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.