It could be the wind’s optimism that pushes up against our burly tents. We’ve set up camp in an alcove uniquely colored with ancient shades of rose and orange layers, deposited sand. I could not have grown to such a point of appreciation for rocks without having walked through these geologic bouquets. This is the White Rim Sandstone.
After days of hiking down the opaque Dirty Devil River, involving escaping quicksand and bushwhacking through buoyant whips of Russian Olive, and thorns of Russian Thistle, we’ve made it to Happy Canyon. At the base of these grandiose walls, about the local resilient species, the slot canyon in front of you is only offering one direction and that’s forward.
The faded walls are meandered by the wind. Curves make it impossible to see much farther past the layered pastel maybe 15 yards in front of you. Describing this scenery is important because it’s at risk of being lost to flooding for Tar Sand development, an energy resource scientists’ have been outspoken against. Its development isn’t cohesive to meeting the 2 degree Celsius global average temperature increase, which holds value in mitigating so we can keep our planet habitable for coming generations of humans and other living beings.
It’s the Bitumen U.S. Oil Sands, a company based out of Alberta, is trying to extract from the sands, which would flood this canyon in the process of diverting the water. The White Rim Stone layer is the remnants from a time where the Colorado Plateau was an ocean. The Bitumen being the ancient, dead algae and plankton after it’s been subjected to the pressures of the ‘Oil Window,’ temperatures between 90-160 degrees Celsius. Tar Sands are essentially expired oil deposits, having gone bad after microbes had the time to eat the lighter hydrocarbon materials with relatively lower Viscosity. That’s why Tar Sand deposits are referred to as ‘nonconventional oil deposits;’ trying to extract the thick, molasses like tar isn’t cost effective because the refining process, which breaks down these long carbon chains, is wildly expensive (notably in energy costs) and wouldn’t even be thought of if there weren’t subsidies for the grime.
Reasons why Tar Sands are propagated include reduced reliance on foreign oil and as an opportunity for job creation. But then why aren’t there subsidies to make cleaner renewable energy sources like solar cost competitive? The state of Vermont employs over 16,000 people in the renewable energy sector, which sees about a 10% employment increase every year since subsidizing Solar, making it cost competitive and a viable option for more Americans. This reduces the energy dependence while creating good paying jobs, facts that disassemble the foundation of these arguments. Also, solar is a renewable resource. When these extractive resources and done what will be left of the landscape and employment opportunities.
Extracting in the Dirty Devil proses devastating risks to the area. The extraction process uses massive amounts of water; a scarce resource in the arid climate. Steamstripping and Sandwashing are the processes in which the Bitumen is extracted from the Earth then refined to become more viscose. In the first year of the Keystone pipeline’s existence, there were over 14 spills the company didn’t know about until community members reported their water being flammable and smelling of oil. If there were to be a spill here, which is statistically likely, no one would be around to report about the spillage. All the life in the area relies on this water source for life, then it flows into the Colorado River, to be used by the Glen Canyon Dam and further down Lake Mead. The Glen Canyon Dam provides water to Page, Arizona among other uses. Further down the water is used by the Lake Mead dam, which provides water to Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, and other communities. Plus the long carbon chains will continue to retain solar light energy and convert it into heat energy perpetuating anthropogenic climate change whose physics’ suggest that the arid areas, like this desert, are only going to become drier. Tar Sand development doesn’t make sense to a person who values human health, so why would this be considered and economically rewarded when people are imprisoned for manslaughter. Proud to oppose.