Continued trespassing at the PR Springs tar sands mining operation led to the arrest of at least 20 protesters this weekend, according to the Uintah and Grand County Sheriffs' departments.
"They went onto the mine site and refused to leave," said Grand County Deputy Sheriff, Darrel Mecham. "When the sheriff went to detain one of the leaders, a number of them started surrounding him and he had to back off. A pretty good sized group of them went off running into the mine site. About 20 were taken into custody."
The protesters of the Tavaputs Action Council, a coalition of environmental groups from Utah, Colorado and Arizona, say that police action won't stop them from escalating their efforts to stop the U.S. Oil Sands project from going forward.
"The purpose of the coalition is not for this tar sands mine alone, but for all climate justice," Melissa Graciosa, a representative of the group, said. "We have future work in mind and escalation of action is definitely something we are planning to do, both for this mine and all over the Colorado plateau."
The events of June 19 suggest that the environmental action is already increasing. Over 100 protesters participated in purposefully trespassing on Oil Sands property to plant native seeds and create a contour berm to collect rainwater. Twenty were arrested in the course of the action - twice as many as during the previous week's protest.
"It was necessary that we went onto the U.S. Oil Sands property," Graciosa said. "It doesn't really belong to the state or to Oil Sands. This is land that originally belonged to first nation peoples."
Oil Sands CEO, Cameron Todd, wrote in a statement that, though the company supports free speech and was not involved in any way in the arrests, the type of action the coalition is attempting is unwise.
"Just as we would note that some people may not agree with a highway, it is both foolish and against the law to try and plant trees in the middle of the interstate in order to show your disagreement," Todd wrote. "Likewise, we would suggest it is foolish and illegal to trespass into an active mine or industrial site."
Uintah County Sheriff's Office Cpl. Brian Fletcher explained that law enforcement units from both Uintah and Grand County were on site during the protest.
"We were out there, but since it occurred in Grand County they handled the entire incident," Fletcher said. "We ended up transporting seven arrestees to our holding, but we had nothing to do with it except for support."
The protesters were arrested on Sunday and transported to Grand County and Uintah County jails, where they were released the following morning. Grand County law enforcement said that they will deal with a potential increase in protest activity accordingly.
"Our whole mission is public safety," Mecham said. "If they keep trespassing, we'll deal with it accordingly."
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