Pile the oil of Texas on the coal of Appalachia, add uranium and synthetic fuel, and move the whole thing to a near wilderness. That gives you the dimensions of the economic upheaval now transforming the Rocky Mountain states.
Since the Carter administration has mishandled the matter and the Republicans have done nothing, this area now tilts strongly to Ronald Reagan. But the sad truth is that both parties, and in fact the whole national political system, have proved inadequate to deal with the vast potential now emanating from the revolution in the Rockies.
Basically, this part of the country is in the process of becoming the national energy base. The area positively teems with the minerals required to see the nation through the period of energy stringency due to last until the end of the century.
Coal, considered by many the best bet for the immediate future, abounds in Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Colorado and northern New Mexico. The Rocky Mountain Basin, which produced only 6 percent of the coal mined nationally in 1970, now yields over 25 percent. By the end of the decade it will produce over half the national total.
The richest new finds of oil and gas in the continental United States are in the Overthrust Belt running along the spine of the Rockies from the Canadian to the Mexican border. Most important are the huge deposits of shale -- a clay-like substance that can be treated to yield oil -- in the northwestern corner of Colorado.
Exxon, which has begun to invest heavily in the area, calculates that by the turn of the century, the United States will be producing about 7 million barrels daily from shale. That is the equivalent of the present-day petroleum industry in this country. A trillion-dollar venture.
Stupendous collateral developments are required to realize these plans. Vast new sources of water have to be found, and one scheme would virtually move the bed of the Missouri River to Colorado. To transport coal, oil and gas to the population centers requires the construction of pipelines, the refurbishing of railroads, and the building of roads on a huge scale.
Something like a million people will probably locate on the western slope of the Rockies. Since that area now houses perhaps a hundred thousand, there will need to take place an enormous expansion of local and state services in education, police, health and welfare. So it is no exaggeration to speak of a revolution in the Rockies.
Local business and political figures are well aware of what is going on. Marvin Davis, a leading independent oil man, sees Denver as a "new Houston." He says of the downtown building boom, "The town is on fire."
Gov. Richard Lamm, a Republican turned Democrat, says, "The only question is the scale of the energy boom. I know it's going to be in the billions." He and other governors in the area have been trying to push the Carter administration to pass laws that will enable government to guide the boom in ways that limit damage to the environment and to local social and political structures. "We want the tools of sanity," Gov. Lamm says.
But the administration has dug in with the environmentalists against any concessions to energy development. Even the Democratic governor feels the Democratic president has turned his back on the region. So Carter has only weak support in the mountain states, and some prominent Colorado Democrats have recently formed an Eat Crow Club to back Reagan.
Reagan is more popular because he would give private enterprise its head in energy development. But it is foolish to imagine that such vast projects can be left to the unguided free play of business enterprise. If nothing else, the basic infrastructure necessary for development -- the roads, schools, hospitals, pipelines and other projects -- demands a major effort by the federal authorities.
The point has not been lost on the Democratic senator from Colorado, Gary Hart. He is in a tough fight for reelection against Mary Estill Buchanan, who won wide public support by fighting her way onto the Republican ballot through the courts. But he has scored with the argument that Republican unwillingness to have government play a role in developing synthetic fuels would darken this country's energy future and make the United States more dependent on foreign oil.
The fact is that fostering energy development in the Rockies represents a major national opportunity. It is an opportunity with a potentially huge payoff both at home, in the form of new enterprise, and abroad, in the form of less dependence on foreign oil. But the two presidential candidates are so mired in sterile ideological politics that they are ignoring the opportunity -- not only now, but probably for years to come.