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Documentary Exposes Fossil Fuel Industries Assault on the Wild West

Energy

Sometimes it seems like there's no frontier left unspoiled by greed and the potential for profit.

A million acres of pristine wilderness in Utah could look like this after being strip mined for tar sands and oil shale. Photo credit: Last Rush for the Wild West

A new documentary, Last Rush for the Wild West: Tar Sands, Oil Shale and the American Frontier, by filmmaker Jennifer Eckstrom, talks about another piece of the American landscape under assault from the fossil fuel industry: the strip mining of more than a million acres of tar sands and oil shale in eastern Utah. It addresses the wilderness landscapes that would be destroyed, increased pollution it would bring to already heavily polluted Salt Lake City and threat to the Colorado River watershed, which provides drinking water to 36 million people.

The state of Utah has already approved the project despite a lack of studies about the potential impact on the water supply, and there has already been strong backlash.

“I made this film because of the magnitude of destruction on the horizon in America if strip mining for tar sands and oil shale is allowed to gain momentum," said Eckstrom, who has a long record of environmental activism. "The massive strip mines that have already been approved by the State of Utah, under the public's radar, are unprecedented and out of step with the needs of humanity on many levels. Too often we realize the foolishness of our decisions after the fact. We now have a rare opportunity to stop this really bad project before it begins.”

Last Rush for the Wild West will debut in the heart of the impacted area, screening at the Moab International Film Festival in Utah on Sept. 19.

According to the film's Facebook page, "The recreation mecca of Moab, Utah is a front-line community positioned directly downstream from proposed tar sands and oil shale strip mines. Moab residents would be among the first in the Colorado River watershed to be impacted by pollution inevitably created by this type of mining practice."

If you can't get out to Moab, watch the trailer here:

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Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.

That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.

Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.

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"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."

To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.


"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."

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