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Protesters set up camp at Utah oil-sands pit

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — About 20 protesters have set up camp at an oil sands operation in eastern Utah, saying a planned mine will devastate wildlife and contaminate groundwater draining into the Colorado River.

Such operations pose risks to water supplies used for drinking and irrigation, according to members of the group Utah Tar Sands Resistance.

The group says the pit has already affected plant and animal life by setting up roads in the largely undeveloped Book Cliffs area.

"Really, the people who are concerned are the last defense against this fossil fuel monster," spokeswoman Jessica Lee said Wednesday. "Once people get out on the land, they don't want to see this land destroyed. It's a precious landscape."

U.S. Oil Sands has said it plans to begin mining sometime this year, and workers have already set up a test pit. State regulators and the company have insisted the eastern Utah desert is so dry there is little groundwater to pollute.

The Calgary, Alberta-based company did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment. It leases Utah trust lands dotted with gooey bitumen, a tar-like form of petroleum.

The company won state approval to build the nation's first commercial tar sand project two years ago. Its officials said they would use a citrus-based solvent that leaves oil-soaked ground as clean as beach sand.

Last summer, more than 50 protesters took credit for shutting down an operation there, but company officials said nobody was working the tar sands pit and protesters managed only to chase away a road crew.

Moab-based environmental group Living Rivers is also fighting the project.

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