Utah is world famous for its tourist destinations — Bryce, Zion, Arches and Canyonlands national parks, its western desert or share of Lake Powell, Desolation Canyon and the Green River and on and on.

In remote areas, particularly in eastern Utah, visitors can easily and often see the constant nodding up and down of oil derricks, which to some may even be an appealing part of the Western experience.

"Look, kids, an oil well," Dad might say. "And another and another."

But what would Dad and Mom, or any tourist, say when they see one after another of trucks hauling oil, multiple operations with all their buildings and machinery needed to store and process shale or sands to get at the oil and the mounds of leftovers after the oil is gone?

What will be the impact for tourists who visit Utah for its relatively unadulterated wide-open spaces, scenic beauty and comparatively clean air?

"I think we don't know yet," said Tracie Cayford, deputy director for the Utah Office of Tourism. "It's a little too early to know."

What is known is that numerous oil companies big and small are eyeing billions of gallons of oil under state, federal and private lands, mostly in eastern Utah and parts of Colorado and Wyoming. Many leases have already been struck on state lands in Utah with federal regulators moving ever closer to deals that could result in commercial operations here by 2012.

An impact statement released by the Bureau of Land Management doesn't paint a sunny picture of the potential impact from shale and sands development.

"Construction and operations could result in a direct loss of recreation employment in the recreation sectors and indirect effects such as declining recreation employee wage and salary spending and expenditures by the recreation section on materials equipment and services," the BLM stated.

For certain, tourists say vistas are important to their experience in Utah. "They come for the beautiful scenery and unobstructed views," she said.

As for how sands and shale development would impact the scenery and views? "At this point, we haven't given it much thought — it's just a little premature," Cayford said.

EnShale President Rex Franson wants his company to set up shop in Uintah County near Bonanza.

Franson's answer about EnShale's footprint is that the plant will look like a cement-processing facility and that it will blend with other industry in the area. He doesn't think of the location as a "prime" tourist destination.

"There's much more interesting places to go," he said.

EnShale is considering either putting the ore it mines for processing back underground or filling trenches left behind by previous mining operations. Franson said his company is also researching what it would take to refine the oil EnShale gets right at the source and then deliver actual fuel instead of oil to buyers.

When EnShale is all done removing the 660 or so million barrels of oil said to exist under land it already leases, Franson said they may actually leave the area better than they found it.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com