This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
In the journal from his legendary 1869 expedition down the Colorado River, explorer John Wesley Powell called the remote Tavaputs Plateau in Eastern Utah “one of the stupendous features of this country.” The one-armed Civil War hero marveled at the Wasatch Mountains soaring above the Uinta Basin, the canyons carved by the Green River thousands of feet below, and the Uinta Mountains to the north, where, he wrote, “among the forests are many beautiful parks.”
Much of that vista remains unchanged, except that now it’s blanketed with thousands of oil and gas wells, and in the winter, a thick layer of smog that constitutes some of the worst air pollution in the country. Since the first significant oil well was drilled there in 1948, the Uinta Basin has become home to some of the most productive oil and gas fields in the mountain west. Its relatively modest output of at most about 90,000 barrels of oil a day contrasts dramatically with places like the Permian basin in New Mexico and Texas, which will pump out more than five million barrels of oil a... Read more