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Utah: Energy and Full Enjoyment of a Wild Whitewater Ride

Mark Green

Mark Green
Posted June 14, 2017

A spray of water swats you in the face as your raft rushes down into boiling river rapids. You grab a nylon perimeter line to secure yourself, but the raft surges up, and you go tumbling out and into the cold Colorado. Bobbing up, you smile – your life preserver keeping you afloat until the guide can haul you back into the raft to continue your summer whitewater trip through Utah’s scenic landscapes.

Thumbnail: Utah: Energy and Full Enjoyment of a Wild Whitewater Ride

Whitewater rafting is a wild, give-and-take with nature. A number of states have great rapids for visitors to travel, but none better than Utah. The flow of the water moves you through the picturesque, river-carved canyons of places like Arches and Canyonlands national parks. It’s a journey that petroleum-based products like nylon, plastic and polyurethane foams make as enjoyable and as safe as possible.

Infographic: Colorado River Economy

Take the all-important life preserver.  For inland recreational boating, such as whitewater rafting down the Colorado River, the U.S. Coast Guard recommends a near-shore buoyant vest, which takes no additional action to inflate and will not lose its buoyancy if superficially damaged. These are made with a polyvinyl chloride or polyethylene closed-cell foam core that doesn’t become weighted or saturated by water, allowing it to stay afloat. Typically, they also use petroleum-based vinyl and nylon as a cover fabric and belting, respectively. All are petrochemicals – feedstocks produced by a versatile refining sector that puts crude oil through several processes, including separation, conversion and treatment.

Riding the River

Each year, Wild West Voyages, a river outfitter and guide company in Moab, Utah, says it welcomes around 700 guests (of the estimated 22,000 who annually ride the river in total, from Colorado through Arizona) on their guided trips down a section of the Colorado River known locally as “The Daily.” These eager visitors are thirsting for the rush of the river beneath them and for the opportunity to see incredible sights that eons of the water’s passage has helped mold. Among the most breathtaking vistas on these half-day excursions are the iconic Fisher Towers and the red rock walls along the southeast boarder of Arches National Park, according to Wild West Voyages.

Infographic: Utah Whitewater Rafting

All you bring is yourself, as outfitters like Wild West provide the rest, most of it made with petroleum. Like the durable components that make up the life preservers, petroleum-based products also are ideal for the river raft itself, most of them made of hypalon, urethane or PVC. These various petroleum products provide strength and durability, and each holds special properties: PVC is an economical option for floating; urethane offers strength and agile handling on rocks and rapids; and hypalon is a light and easy-to-repair raft material.

Petroleum also is used in the fiberglass and plastic used to make paddles. While wooden paddles remain popular for canoeing and other light-duty water activities, fiberglass provides strength and lightness for the agility and durability needed to meet the challenge of running the rapids.

Beyond the Water

Back on shore, energy comes into play again, as a fuel, when outfitters shuttle guests back to their vehicles after the day’s adventure is done.

Hundreds of hotels, motels and inns dot southern Utah to provide visitors with a place to relax after a day on the river, or after hiking in one of the region’s national parks or preserve areas. All of them depend on energy – electricity (often generated from natural gas) for lights and natural gas for heating and cooking food. And while natural gas is currently only a small producer of electricity in Utah, generating about 8 million megawatt hours or 22 percent of the state’s total, it is expected to grow as a producer in the future, replacing retiring coal-fired power plants. 

If you find yourself in southern Utah this summer and want to enjoy a beauty and a rush that only the Colorado River can provide, remember the key role that energy – including natural gas and oil – play in an exciting and safe adventure. 


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Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Mark also was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela live in Occoquan, Va., where they enjoy their four grandchildren.