Competitive Position of Energy Resources in Rocky Mountain Region
Howard A. Meyerhoff
A half century has wrought drastic changes in the economy of the Rocky Mountain region. In the 1920s the country from New Mexico to Montana could boast of only two peripheral population centers — Denver and Salt Lake City — which provided limited markets for manufactured goods. Travel in much of the area was an adventure. Major activity was mining for export, and major needs were met by imports from the East. The Colorado Fuel and Iron Co. and the railroads were the chief users of the vast coal resources; limited oil production in Colorado and Wyoming was barely adequate for regional needs; few of the hydroenergy resources had been tapped.
Since World War II, population growth has provided markets that support locally based industry, which must be paced by the development of energy to power it. Petroleum geologists have done their part well, but power technology has made competitive sources of energy available, and the full impact of competition is still to come.
There is little immediate threat from nuclear raw materials so long as conventional fuels are available in abundance, and oil from shale is beset with political problems that appear more formidable than technological breakthroughs. Chief competitors to oil are coal and hydro-energy. The once-remote hydro site and coal mine can now deliver energy to every part of the region by high voltage lines and network hookups. Utility and mining companies are acquiring coal lands for development, and coal will be used in increasing volume — even by railroads, which are fast reaching the limits of diesel-powered equipment and may turn to electricity generated in coal burning power plants.
Oil's role may decline relatively, but its importance is not in jeopardy. However, a more intense exploratory effort and a broader understanding of energy resources economics will be required of the geologic profession, oil companies, and state officials if the regional oil industry is to retain its place in the regional economy. The pipeline makes the region competitive with other areas of oil and gas supply.
AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91051©2012 AAPG Rocky Mountain Section Meeting, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 23-26 February 1969