Wyoming is no stranger to the cycles of energy development. The state has experienced dozens of booms and busts over the years. With oil prices falling rapidly, Wyoming’s energy landscape may be shifting once again. Wyoming Public Radio reporters investigate what makes a boom and its known consequences, what can be done to steer a single-sector economy towards becoming a diverse economy, and what constitutes a bust.
Budgets of oil states are going to be hard hit by the recent slide in oil prices. Measured in dollars, Texas is the clear loser, but in terms of actual on-the-ground impacts, it’s not quite so simple. In the country’s number two oil producing state, North Dakota, falling prices have barely caused a ripple, while in Alaska (ranked fourth), lawmakers are calling it a “fiscal apocalypse.”
The United States has been experiencing an oil and gas boom for the last five years. It has helped the country’s economic recovery and created thousands of jobs for people in states like North Dakota, Wyoming and Texas. But although booms are often heralded for the economic opportunities they provide, they also have a darker side.
When hydraulic fracturing opened up thousands of natural gas wells around Pinedale in the mid-2000s, hundreds of energy workers descended upon the area — all looking for a place stay. The demand for housing was just too much for the area to handle.
Think of oil and gas towns and family-oriented probably doesn’t come to mind. They’re more likely to conjured images of transient workers, crime and RV parks. But plenty of oilfield workers do move to town with their families
Verne Waldner bought the Conoco Service Station in Wamsutter Wyoming back in 1973. There wasn’t much to the town then, and there still isn’t. Wamsutter sits off Interstate 80 and has a current population of just under 500. But Verne says that isolation has made his station an essential outpost for drivers passing through for decades.
Update: On Tuesday February 17th, the Wyoming House of Representatives and Senate both defeated amendments to put more money into safety upgrades on Highway 59. Governor Matt Mead had asked for $21 million to add more passing lanes on the highway, but the Joint Appropriations Committee agreed to just $17 million to fund repairs on both Highway 59 and U-S 20/26. Lawmakers said revenues associated with falling oil prices have made the state reticent to spend money. If you ever take Wyoming Highway 59 between Douglas and Gillette, you might have noticed that recently there are more state troopers giving out more citations. In addition to this increased police presence, Governor Matt Mead has proposed nearly 22 million dollars in safety upgrades.
Oil prices have been in freefall in recent months, dropping by more than half since June. For energy states, that’s bad news. The American West has a long tradition of booms and busts, and in some states, like North Dakota and Wyoming, they continue to be a defining feature of the economy. But do they have to be?
Inside Energy is a collaborative journalism initiative of partners across the US and supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting