How oil drilling is threatening Utah’s red rock recreation sites

A different kind of spire is jutting into the iconic red rock vistas of Moab, Utah. It is the scaffolding of drilling rigs, and it heralds a new chapter in Moab’s long history of energy extraction. Moab may have been comfortable with the uranium industry that put it on the map in another century. But having an oil patch in the midst of this area’s popular national parks and renowned recreational backcountry is jarring to some residents.

Oil and gas wells have been drilled piecemeal around here for decades. But today’s wells represent a kind of backcountry industrialization that this area hasn’t dealt with before. The area where the drilling is taking place attracts an estimated 500,000 backcountry recreationists a year. Those visitors are now a bedrock of Moab’s economy. Seventy percent of jobs in Grand County derive from tourism.

Out in the oil-rich lands, away from Moab’s ever-expanding hotel strip, transmission pipes are being slung over slick rock, through piñon and juniper trees and across draws where horses, mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles have long played.

The lights on rigs and the flares from wells can be seen in the night sky from Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dead Horse Point State Park. Truckloads of fluids and sand and oil lumber up and down the twists of Utah 313 that ends where the movie characters Thelma and Louise revved their convertible off a cliff and into eternity.

On a recent morning, backhoes, excavators and dump trucks chewed up the red mud alongside the highway to extend a pipeline to a new well where the smell of anti-corrosion chemicals hung heavy in a winter fog. The well is 7 miles from the southern boundary of Arches, a park that attracts more than a million visitors a year.

Read full story…


Similar Posts: