Over the last decade natural gas production has increased over 60 percent in Utah, while oil production has seen an astounding 160 percent increase. How to manage these increases, and what they mean for the Uintah Basin, was at the heart of a presentation by Mike Styler, executive director of the Department of Natural Resources, during the Utah Legislature’s May interim session.
Fossil fuels, like oil and gas, have become a significant part of the economic development of Utah, especially within the Uintah Basin. However, extracting these resources requires careful planning in order to maintain environmental quality, long-term economic stability and consistent access to open lands and recreation.
According to Amanda Smith, executive director of the Department of Environmental Quality, ozone depletion in the Uintah Basin is one of the top issues for the Division of Air Quality. Pollution in this area is not only a potential risk to environmental health, but also the health of the general populous, with communities all along Highway 40 and nearby Indian Country. How those citizens recreate on the land is important, too.
In Eastern Utah, there are thousands of acres of open land that is continually used for activities like hunting, fishing, and off-roading. Their usage is on the rise. In fact, there has been a 100 percent increase in state big game applications alone. Protecting these recreational opportunities is also important, said Styler.
Still, the quality of life that has been common in Eastern Utah could easily continue. There may be possible technological improvements that could diminish leaks and seepage from wells and transport, leading to less pollution, and Uintah and Duchesne counties could diversify their industries and growth.
The dramatic increase in oil and natural gas production will certainly change the state, but it isn’t clear how those changes will affect the ongoing prosperity of Utah after these resources have been fully extracted.