The Utah project is the "first commercial oil sands extraction project in the U.S.," said Cameron Todd, CEO of the Calgary, Alberta-based company. Todd said Utah's oil sands are sweeter or lighter with less polluting sulfur than in Alberta's vastly larger deposits.
Utah has an estimated 12 billion to 19 billion barrels of oil buried in its tar sands, though not all of that is considered accessible.
The state regulators appeared to struggle Wednesday in defending their position that no significant amount of groundwater ever visits the 62-acre site called PR Springs.
Herbert was often inconsistent under intense questioning, and he was admonished several times by the administrative judge for failing to give simple answers. Herbert initially claimed Utah has to protect only "useable" quantities of groundwater. But he later acknowledged state law protects any amount of surface or subsurface water.
The regulators said drilling logs by U.S. Oil Sands showed no evidence of groundwater, but under questioning they acknowledged the logs made no mention of the presence or absence of groundwater.
The company says it drilled 108 holes up to 305 feet deep without finding water, twice the depth of the proposed strip mine. The company also drilled deeper for a well but says it hit dry holes four times, with a fifth drill hole finally hitting water 1,800 feet underground.
The hearing continues Thursday and is being broadcast at http://www.deq.utah.gov/Online_Services/deqwebcasts.htm .
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