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.   

The Setting

Sublette County, Wyoming, lies on the western side of the state, nestled between the Wind River Mountains and the Wyoming Range, and veined by the Green River. It is the rural West in the truest sense of the term, with a total population of 10,247 as of 2010 spread over an area more than four times the size of Rhode Island. The region is often lovingly referred to as “Mountain Man Country.” But beyond its jagged, snow-dusted peaks and sprawling cattle ranches, Sublette County is also one of the country’s most productive locations for natural gas extraction. 

The county contains two major gas fields: the Pinedale Anticline and the Jonah Field. In 2010, these two fields produced $4 billion worth of natural gas, constituting nearly 40 percent of the entire state’s output. Gas is extracted via the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” Mike Nomis, a former employee of Halliburton who worked as a supervisor at the Jonah Field until November 2005, describes the fracking process:

“They’ll go down and they shoot guns, perforating guns, and crack the rock under the ground.  So the cracks will go into the gas pockets.  Then the frack crew comes in… they’ll use the chemicals, sand and a gel to hold the sand with everything while it’s going down in the hole. You’ll pump down to those fractures and the sand particles go into the fractures.  Then they actually flow it back to get all the gel and the chemicals and everything back out of the ground… once that all comes back out, then that ground settles on the sand particles, so it won’t close the fracture.  So the gas can still squeeze through the sand.”

The most recent natural gas boom began in the early 2000s, and it has had a profound effect on the communities of Sublette County, particularly in population growth: according to Census data, the county has seen a 73 percent population increase from 2000 to 2010. Work in the gas fields has brought an influx of people from all over the country, prompting changes in the area’s economy, development, and culture. 

Some Sublette County residents see these changes as positive, reinvigorating even. 

Pinedale business owner Clint Gilchrist describes his reaction to the changing population:

"It’s my perception, but we were becoming an older community with less energy, both money-wise but people-wise, too.  And young kids bring energy.  They bring energy for grandparents, for parents...  Sometime in the early to mid-2000s, I went to the Sublette County Fair and sat there on day and looked around and thought, ‘Wow, there’s families here. There’s young people here.’ I think that’s the single biggest positive that the gas industry has brought.”

But for others, the change brought about by the gas boom represents a loss of the intimacy that makes communities like Pinedale so unique. As Leslie Rozier, a nurse practitioner and Pinedale native, put it,

“Our little, tiny, quiet, little cow town is no longer.”

The series begins with a story about the boom and the Pinedale community's attempts to cope with sudden change. A slightly different version of the audio collage was recently aired on Open Spaces, a program from Wyoming Public Radio. A link to that segment can be found here. Future stories will hone in on environmental, social, and economic consequences of the boom, with audio derived from the American Heritage Center's oral history collection.

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