Stories and Reports

Colorado River
In Crisis

Stories and Reports

The Western
Energy Boom

Stories and Reports

Health Care in
the Rural West

Historical Background

The Country Life Commission


Are Western Communities Getting a Fair Return on Energy Development?

From the interactive video "An Unquiet Landscape: The American West's New Energy Frontier"

With sky-high energy prices driving new oil and gas exploration in the American West, states are struggling to keep pace with critical infrastructure and revenue policies. Western North Dakota is in the throes of a raging energy boom, as hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling techniques coax valuable hydrocarbons out of long-dormant oilfields. But as towns like Williston see their populations double virtually overnight and vital farm-to-market roads crumble under 18-wheel trucks, how best to ensure that local communities can survive the onslaught, and to reap rewards that benefit the whole state, long after the boom is over?

Working with Montana-based Headwaters Economics, The Rural West Initiative has published a comprehensive multimedia report, combining a rigorous economic and policy analysis with a 31-minute interactive video documentary called "An Unquiet Landscape: The American West's New Energy Frontier." 

The video feature looks at three rural western communities at different stages of the process of energy development: North Dakota, where a recent drilling frenzy has pushed it to the third-highest oil production in the U.S.; western Wyoming, where residents are coping with air pollution and habitat destruction after a decade of oil and gas exploration; and eastern Wyoming, where residents of one of the state's poorest communities pin their hopes on a boom on the local Niobrara formation.

The video report is published in an innovative format, an interactive player that presents supplementary information at key points in the documentary.  We will be sharing the source code for the interactive player, which leverages the latest HTML5 technology, under an open source, creative commons license for noncommercial reuse.


Last modified Mon, 1 Oct, 2012 at 9:38

Global Players in the West's Extraction Economy

Last modified Thu, 28 Jul, 2011 at 14:08

Cow Town to Boom Town: “A Feeding Frenzy”

The new $20 million aquatic center in Pinedale

By Claire Woodard

The influx of wealth from the gas boom has brought a lot of new infrastructure, investment, and business opportunities to Sublette County, Wyoming. But it has also inspired an unfamiliar and sometimes troubling response among residents: greed.

Last modified Thu, 14 Jul, 2011 at 14:22

Cow Town to Boom Town: “Ambivalence”

By Claire Woodard

Residents of Pinedale, Wyoming have decidedly mixed feelings about the area’s gas boom. Though the boom has brought wealth and much opportunity to the community, it has also presented a host of challenges, from a transformed town culture to environmental degradation.

In “Ambivalence,” Pinedale locals share their thoughts on the boom’s benefits and its drawbacks.

Last modified Thu, 14 Jul, 2011 at 14:25

Data Visualization: Journalism's Voyage West

This visualization plots over 140,000 newspapers published over three centuries in the United States. The data comes from the Library of Congress' "Chronicling America" project, which maintains a regularly updated directory of newspapers. 

Last modified Tue, 26 Jun, 2012 at 15:02

Cow Town to Boom Town: A Series of Multimedia Essays

Click the player above to watch the video, "The Boom: Pinedale, Wyoming in Transition"


By Claire Woodard

“Cow Town to Boom Town” is a series of audio-visual essays about the effects of the natural gas boom on the community of Pinedale, Wyoming. The project draws on interviews with residents conducted by the University of Wyoming’s American Heritage Center, as part of their oral history collection “Wyoming’s Energy Boom, 1995-2010.” We thank the Center and its Associate Archivist Leslie Waggener for kindly sharing interviews and materials.   

Last modified Thu, 14 Jul, 2011 at 13:47

Rethinking the Colorado River: A Provocative Speech

As part of our Rural West Initiative, we are examining the crisis on the Colorado River, with a close eye on its impact on rural communities, and the past, present, and future of agriculture in the Colorado River Basin.

We join the conversation on the Colorado River crisis by posting a provocative speech given by Doug Kenney at the December, 2010 meeting of the Colorado River Water Users Association (CRWUA) in Las Vegas. He recently authored a report for the Western Water Policy Program entitled, Rethinking the Future of the Colorado River. He called his speech at CRWUA a "Reader’s Digest" version of that report.

Last modified Tue, 5 Jul, 2011 at 6:09

The Contraction and Expansion of the Rural West

By Michael De Alessi

A jovial farmer boy I'll be
As free as birds that sing,
And carry forth my songs of glee,
Among the flowers of Spring.
No place for me - the crowded town,
With pavements hard and dry,
With lengthened streets of dusty brown,
And gloomy houses high.
I go and come a farmer boy,
From city trammels free,
I crack my whip and cry "Who hoy,"
A farmer boy I'll be.

- "The jovial farmer boy" words [1] and music by M. W. Cobb, 1885

Snapshot of 1910 vs. 2008 in population percent

Whether conjuring images of an opportunity to work the land, a close-knit community, or wide open spaces and fresh air, country life has long held a powerful sway over American hearts and minds.[2] The jovial farmer boy is just one example of the romantic allure of country life, but one that highlights the fact that this allure exists in contrast to city life, which has its own powerful economic, cultural, and social attractions.

Health Care in the Rural West: Persistent Problems, Glimmers of Hope

Giving a typhoid innoculation at a school in rural San Augustine County, Texas, 1943. (Photo: John Vachon via Library of Congress)

Giving a typhoid innoculation at a school in rural San Augustine County, Texas, 1943. (Photo: John Vachon via the Library of Congress)


By Michael De Alessi and Robin Pam

“In general, the rural population is less safe-guarded by boards of health than is the urban population. The physicians are farther apart and are called in later in case of sickness, and in some districts medical attendance is relatively more expensive. The necessity for disease prevention is therefore self-evident and a betterment of these conditions is a nation-wide obligation.”

– Report of the Country Life Commission [1]

Fearing a loss of agricultural productivity and rural community, Teddy Roosevelt formed the Country Life Commission in 1908 to investigate why the social and intellectual, as well as economic, aspects of country life were not keeping pace with city life.[2] Of the six “deficiencies of country life” highlighted by the commission, “health in the open country” featured prominently.[3]  The report emphasized issues such as differential access to doctors, numbers of physicians per capita, and costs of rural health care, and all remain contemporary concerns. The Commission’s call for “increasing the powers of the Federal Government in respect to the supervision and control of the public health”[4] could be pulled straight from today's health care debates.

In spite of a broad increase in the number of doctors per capita in the United States and in the American West over the past century, many rural areas in the West have seen little or no increase. This is a cause for grave concern. The fact that much of the rural West has seen little improvement in this basic measure of health care access is surprising, and it underscores the persistent remoteness of vast stretches of the rural West. But it also underscores the importance of improving physician access in the rural West. And the state of Utah shows a way forward.

Last modified Tue, 5 Jul, 2011 at 6:12