In Utah, a long, colorful but futile history of development

Just as is true in the case of oil shale in Colorado and the surrounding region, Utah has a long, colorful and to date largely futile history when it comes to efforts to develop tar sands.

That’s according to a historical rundown contained in an appendix to the Bureau of Land Management’s 2012 final environmental impact statement addressing land allocations for potential shale and tar sands leasing in the region.

It says that no known exploration or development has occurred in the case of deposits in the San Rafael Swell west of Green River, the Tar Sand Triangle and Circle Cliff deposits in southern Utah or in some deposits in northeastern Utah.

But other areas have seen activity dating back many decades, and in at least one case more than a century, according to the BLM history.

■ “The Asphalt Ridge deposit has been the target of many exploration and development efforts. It was mined at least as early as the 1920s when the (nearby) town of Vernal, Utah, paved its streets with material from the deposit,” the BLM says.

Sun Oil Co., Texaco, Phillips Petroleum Co. and Shell Oil Co.conducted exploratory drilling at Asphalt Ridge. The U.S. Department of Energy conducted extensive field experiments on the deposit between 1971 and 1982.

At P.R. Spring in the Bookcliffs, the BLM reports, a man named John Pope drilled a test well in 1900. Sometime in the early 20th century, a 50-foot-long adit was driven into a tar sands outcrop at P.R. Spring and a steel pipe was run from it to a trough to drain oil.

■ “In the 1970s and 1980s, the P.R. Spring deposit was the target of intense exploration and research activity by several companies and government agencies,” the BLM reports.

Bighorn Oil Co. operated a 100-barrel-a-day pilot plant in the area.

“Although several other companies proposed development operations for the P.R. Spring deposit, no viable commercial production has occurred.”

■ Sporadic attempts to develop the Raven Ridge deposit southeast of Vernal occurred prior to 1964. In 1980, Western Tar Sands, Inc., did test-mining there, but plans to build a 100-barrel-a-day production facility never were carried out.

■ The Sunnyside deposit east of Price was mined mostly for road construction from 1892 to the late 1940s, with material shipped to five other western states. Numerous companies including Shell, Texaco, Gulf Oil, Amoco and Chevron were active there from 1963-85. Shell ran a steam flood pilot plant from 1964-67 and a mining and bitumen extraction operation from 1982-85.


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