Exhibits: Resources: Energy
A Present from the Past
Go to the canyon country of the Colorado Plateau and look around. The scenery around you is more than breathtaking. It's a miracle of nature, created over hundreds of millions of years. Each gaudy stripe across the cliff face shows the work of about 30 - 70 million years-- far longer than the 20,000 years (give or take a few) that homo sapiens has walked the earth!
A closer look around the Colorado Plateau, as with most Western landscapes, reveals a much more modern phenomenon: gas and oil wells, coal mines, and other forms of energy extraction. This is no coincidence. Just as the Appalachian mountains are rich with coal deposits, created from organic matter laid down nearly 300 million years ago, so do the mountains, plateaus and deserts of the western states contain a treasure trove of energy resources, created from long-gone plants and animals.
The oil, natural gas, and mineral deposits in the west were created between 245 million years ago and 40 million years ago. Back in those days, what is now an arid, mountainous region was a warm, shallow sea, filled with marine life and surrounded by swampy jungles. Sites across the west like Fossil Butte National Monument (Wyoming), Dinosaur National Monument (Utah), and Makoshika State Park (Montana) indicate an incredible abundance of life, both in and out of the sea. As the ancient plants and animals died, the organic matter was transformed over millions more years, by extreme heat and pressure, into the materials which literally fuel our lives.
Boundless Thirst for Energy
We use petroleum, natural gas, coal, and other mineral resources in every aspect of our daily lives. When we travel by car, bus, or airplane, our vehicles are powered by petroleum, created by ancient sea creatures. When we turn on our lights, our computers or our radios, half of us are using electricity created by burning coal-- the byproduct of long-dead plants. When we cook our dinners, heat our schools, or take a shower, it is often natural gas, also created by ancient organisms, which burns in the stove, the furnace, or the water heater. Without these energy resources, we would not only be in the dark, but we would lack almost every other convenience of modern life.
Americans make up 4% of the world population, but consume 24% of the world's energy. Because we have such a hunger for energy, we are constantly seeking new ways to create it from the world around us. Fortunately, we are a nation rich in land, and have devised many ways to use the natural resources of our public lands to feed our energy needs.
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