Image of the Day: Carbon County Utah Lives Up to Its Name

By Tom Yulsman | November 13, 2013 10:24 am
Aerial photo of natural gas wells in Utah. Fracking has helped spur development.  (iPhone Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

Well pads in Carbon County, Utah, as seen from a commercial airliner in June, 2013. Shot on my iPhone and processed to heighten contrast and definition. (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

Natural gas wells and their access roads mark the landscape in this iPhone photograph I snapped from while flying over Carbon, County, Utah last June.

At the time, I was on the last leg of a long journey back from Cambodia, headed home to Colorado. This time, as I always try to do, I grabbed a window seat to satisfy my intense fascination with the way landforms look from the air, and how we humans have altered it. From my window seats over the past the past ten years or so, I’ve witnessed a big upsurge in oil and gas development in the West, made possible in large measure by hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

That practice was in the news last week here in Colorado where I live, when voters in three cities passed measures on election day to ban fracking within their borders. A ban was narrowly rejected in a fourth city. With that in mind, I thought this would make newsworthy image of the day.

Natural gas development in the United States has brought economic benefits and also contributed to a reduction in U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to levels not seen since 1994, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. It has also brought environmental impacts and controversy, particularly over fracking.

My intent in publishing the photo above, and another one toward the end, is not to draw conclusions over the balance between those benefits and impacts, but simply to show (in a somewhat artistic manner) how energy development has left a clear imprint on the land. I’m sure different people will draw different conclusions about this. So please feel free to share your thoughts below.

Fracking has helped spur development of natural gas in Utah. Source: State of Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining) As its name might suggest, Carbon County, as with Utah overall, has seen its share of energy development. Click on the thumbnail at right for a graph from the State of Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining showing the growth in applications for drilling permits.

Also, check out this Google Earth Engine timelapse of Landsat imagery of this area of Carbon County, near the town of Price:

Fracking has helped spur natural gas development in the West.

Click to play a Google Earth Engine timelapse of Landsat images. (Source: Google Earth Engine)

In the timelapse, which begins in the 1980s, drilling pads and access roads start to make an appearance in the year 2000. Make sure to zoom out to get a fuller sense of the scope of energy development in this part of Utah. You can also move the map around and find other areas where drilling has left an imprint on the landscape.

Here’s a map of active wells centered roughly on the area I flew over:

Carbon County well map. Fracking has helped spur development of natural gas.

In the map, each of the red sun-like symbols marks a producing gas well.

Last but not least, another aerial iPhone photo. With this one, like the first photo, I took artistic license with contrast, definition and color:

Fracking has helped spur development of natural gas in Colorado. (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

Aerial iPhone photo of gas wells in western Colorado. (Photo: © Tom Yulsman)

Like Utah, Colorado has also experienced a boom in oil and gas development. According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the active well count in the state has more than doubled since 2002. The latest count as of Nov. 7, 2013: 51,595 active wells.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Fossil Fuels, select, Top Posts
  • Uncle Al

    Technology, “What do you protest?”

    Enviro-whinerism, ” Everything of value you create.”

    There is no counting the number of undiscovered species exterminated by the unknown hazards of fossil fuels’ recovery. Somebody else in the tenebrous future deserves to consume it; and not them, either.

  • Richard Noble

    Turning a shot to black and white to make it look like the countryside is covered with oil is a cheap trick. Heighten contrast and leave the color in. Let’s all be honest for a change.

  • Untitled Lion

    I live in Carbon County and companies like Anadarko, Conocophillips, Kerr-McGee, with the help of local construction companies and many others have literally decimated this part of Utah. This photo, shows the real truth of what’s happening to our land and our heritage, by these greedy money hungry thugs. Take a drive through Duchesne, Uintah and Dagget counties and see for yourself. I’ve seen maps of Utah, from Conocophillips showing proposed oil and gas fields, from the Uinta mountains, all the way to four corners, clear to the borders of Wyoming and Colorado. It’s imperative that Utah and other western States, never regain control of the public lands.



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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