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

Dear Visitor: This site preserves the legacy publications of the Rural West Initiative from 2009-2014. 
For more recent information on our conference and publications, please go to


Research Paper: Benefiting from Unconventional Oil

Report: Energy Development in the Rural West


A research report commissioned from Headwaters Economics by the Bill Lane Center for the American West, "Benefiting from Unconventional Oil" assesses how states like North Dakota are dealing with the rush to extract valuable energy resources. Some of the report's key findings: 

  • Sky-high global energy prices and "unconventional" techniques like hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and horizontal drilling have brought a frenzy of drilling to once-dormant oil patches in western North Dakota and eastern Wyoming.
  • Although industrial and community impacts from development of these unconventional plays are greater and more continuous than conventional oil fields, state revenue policies are not designed to provide help to impacted areas.
  • Production from unconventional wells plummets after the first year, so to maximize production, more wells have to be drilled and old ones re-fracked, creating a "treadmill" of heightened activity stretching over many years. 

"North Dakota appears to be learning on the job," says the report, "But a more consistent approach in all states that are facing future unconventional plays will need to replace the current, often ad-hoc assistance to impacted communities.".

The report, compiled by the Montana-based research institute Headwaters Economics  -- is available for download here:

Benefiting from Unconventional Oil: State Fiscal Policy is Unprepared for the Heightened Community Impacts of Unconventional Oil Plays


The report comprises part of a larger study of energy development in the rural west, including an interactive documentary video produced by the Bill Lane Center for the American West.




Last modified Tue, 24 Apr, 2012 at 17:03

Report: Energy Development in the Rural West

"An Unquiet Landscape: the American West's New Energy Frontier"  Watch the interactive video »


Are Western States Getting Fair Return on Energy Development?

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. 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.

In this Report:

Video Feature

An Unquiet Landscape: the American West’s New Energy Frontier

High energy prices have made advanced drilling technologies profitable, pushing drill bits into parts of the West once believed tapped out, and into new places once thought inaccessible. A look at three communities in North Dakota and Wyoming who find themselves at different stages of an energy boom. 

Note: Our Annotated Video Player, Free and Open Source »


Research Paper

Benefiting from Unconventional Oil: State Fiscal Policy is Unprepared for the Heightened Community Impacts of Unconventional Oil Plays

As oil production from the Bakken formation continues to set records in North Dakota, the sheer pace and scale of the boom is still unfolding. The intensity of industrial activity in western North Dakota translates into mounting concerns about the ability of local and state government to respond to growing infrastructure needs and service demands. In short, the fiscal policies on the books in North Dakota and other states may be especially ill suited to unconventional oil plays.



Last modified Tue, 23 Apr, 2013 at 19:38

Examining The Global West

By Jon Christensen

We live in a global West. Even the most remote rural areas of the American West are plugged into the global economy. This has long been true. And it is even more so today. The connections between the local and the global run from the simple and straightforward to the complicated. In the current issue of High Country News, reporter Jonathan Thompson traces some of the connections that constitute this “Global West” through production and trade of natural resources, particularly energy and minerals. 

While Thompson reported on this story for High Country News in Douglas, Wyoming, and other parts of the West, researchers here at the Bill Lane Center's Rural West Initiative closely examined trends in direct foreign investment and the effect of global demand on the energy sector, which is booming in the West. Robert Jackman, a Stanford graduate student in public policy, wrote a sidebar for Thompson's story exploring three future scenarios for global energy demand and its impact on the West. Graduate students in computer science working here at the Bill Lane Center created an interactive online map of current foreign investment in energy and mining operations in the West to accompany the reports.

Jackman’s article for High Country News was based on his in-depth report -- the first in our Rural West Initiative Working Paper series -- is available here:

Fossil Fuels, Foreign Trade, and Foreign Investment in the American West


Jackman provides a sobering assessment of foreign influence in this crucial sector of the economy of the American West. He found that foreign direct investment in fossil fuel production occurs at a much lower rate than foreign direct investment in the American economy in general. Most of that investment comes from companies based in Europe, Canada, and Australia — and not from Asia — continuing a historical pattern. 

The biggest foreign influence on fossil fuel production comes from rising worldwide consumption of fossil fuels, and that is largely driven by growth in Asian economies. However, the main driver of demand for fossil fuels from the American West continues to overwhelmingly come from domestic consumption in the United States. 

The American West is indeed a “carbon colony.” But it is our carbon colony. 




Last modified Thu, 18 Aug, 2011 at 13:11

Report: Community Journalism in the United States

Data visualization of U.S. weekly newspapers in 2010, in white. View interactive map »

State of the Industry

Rural Newspapers Doing Better Than Their City Counterparts

In an era of precipitous decline for major metropolitan newspapers, rural journalism is surviving, even thriving, in the rural West and across the United States.  



Historical Context

Did the West Make Newspapers, or Did Newspapers Make the West?

The history of newspapers in the rural West is one of crisis and triumph in alternation. Failure, and bouncing back from it, has been a tradition. And at a time when there is so much talk about the future of newspapers, this past is worth considering.



Data Visualization

Mapping Journalism's Voyage West

With American newspapers under stress from changing economics, technology and consumer behavior, it's easy to forget how ubiquitous and important they are in society. For this data visualization, we have taken the directory of US newspaper titles compiled by the Library of Congress' Chronicling America project – nearly 140,000 publications in all – and plotted them over time and space. This visualization is also viewable as a series of video animations.



Last modified Tue, 30 Oct, 2012 at 9:57

Rural Newspapers Doing Better Than Their City Counterparts

Photo: John McChesney   

By Geoff McGhee

Walk in to a town council meeting in Pinedale, Wyoming, and you're likely to find as many as three local reporters scribbling notes and asking questions. That news in a town of 2,030 residents is covered by two newspapers and a website is partly explained by the abundance of mineral wealth in surrounding Sublette County, which produced $3.6 billion in natural gas last year. Add to that the urgent concern about breaching a local dam threatened by record snowmelt coming from the Wind River Range, and you've got a recipe for a small-town media frenzy.

This scene is also illustrative of how rural journalism is surviving, even thriving, in the rural West and across the United States, in an era of precipitous decline for major metropolitan newspapers.

Last modified Thu, 14 Jul, 2011 at 11:00

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

Click image to view interactive feature.

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.

Last modified Thu, 2 Apr, 2015 at 11:48