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The next boom: oil shale

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Remnants of the nuclear frenzy that swept across the Colorado Plateau from the 1950s still scar the landscape, especially in the form of exploration roads carved into the wilderness. Bob Dawson’s image on the cover of your Sept. 4 issue reflects the fact that impacts on the built environment often fade more quickly than disruptions to the natural order.

Today, there are signs of a resurrected interest in another energy resource, oil shale, the same resource that initiated its own frenzy on Colorado’s Western Slope in the 1980s. If such development rises from the ashes of its predecessor, the "Uranium Drive-in" in your photo will become the "Oil Shale Drive-in," and there will be massive landscape changes including new cities, roads and congestion. Oil shale planning will soon make its presence blatantly apparent, and it will persist like no activity has before. The impacts of nuclear exploration and development will pale in comparison.

Martin J. Pasqualetti
Professor, School of Geographical Sciences
Arizona State University

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