The Colorado River basin has as many resources below ground as it does above ground. These underground resources lure countless extraction-based companies near the river every year in search of uranium, oil, natural gas, and oil shale. As energy prices have risen in the last decade, the demand for underground resources has ignited a flurry of claims, boreholes, and extraction proposals. Uranium mining is one of the biggest threats facing the Colorado River – 395 uranium mining claims currently exist along the river corridor; another 800 pending new claims are in the works.
Oil and gas drilling, as well as the potential for oil shale development, are additional major concerns for the river. Water pollution, and the use of water in these extraction efforts, would place extraordinary demands on Colorado River and the ecosystems surrounding it. Oil shale extraction, in particular, proposes to use vast quantities of water – if such extraction would occur on a widespread basis in western Colorado and southern Utah, it would fundamentally change the water supply availability for the entire Southwestern U.S. Abandoned mines and tailings are an additional concern – in Utah, abandoned uranium mines and tailings lay alongside the Colorado River seemingly just waiting for the next major flood to wash them away and destroy the river’s ecosystem.