A late-1960s Atomic Energy Commission plan to extract Wyoming natural gas with five underground nuclear explosions won strong initial support from the oil and gas industry and the federal government. Finally, however, the idea stalled, thanks to the emergence of more information on possible dangers, to Washington politics, and especially to intense local opposition in Sublette County, Wyo., where the devices were slated to be detonated.
Ann Chambers Noble
Ann Chambers Noble
Natural gas has been flowing from the Jonah Field and Pinedale Anticline in western Wyoming since the early 1990s, bringing with it substantial profits, tax revenues, prosperity, social change, air pollution, and declines in local mule-deer populations. The story goes to the heart of Wyoming’s oil and gas culture, and raises important questions about energy production’s long-term costs and benefits.
Pinedale, Wyo. was founded in 1904, incorporated in 1912 and became seat of brand-new Sublette County in western Wyoming in 1921, when the town still boasted only about 100 people. Despite its isolation, the town survived well through the 20th century on ranching and tourism. It began to change more quickly in the early 1990s, as development sped up in the nearby Pinedale Anticline and Jonah natural gas fields. Today, with more than 2,000 people, the town works hard to keep its traditions while dealing with steady, industrial growth.
White settlement in Sublette County, Wyo. traces its roots to the late 1870s, when cattlemen brought herds to the pastures where North, Middle and Piney Creeks join the Green River. The town of Big Piney was incorporated there in 1913. The next year, neighboring Marbleton was incorporated a mile away, on higher ground on the bench above Piney Creek. Every effort to combine the two towns has failed, and they continue to maintain separate governments though they share most other services. The energy industry is now the major employer in both communities. Big Piney registered a population of 552 in the 2010 census, and Marbleton, 1,094.
Euro-Americans first described what’s now Sublette County in western Wyoming early in the 1800s, when it was a hub for the Rocky Mountain fur trade. Cattle ranchers followed the fur trappers. Soon, tie hacks arrived to cut timber for railroad ties. The county’s first successful oil well was drilled in 1907, and oil and gas have been important to the county ever since. In the early 1990s one of the world’s largest gas fields was discovered south of Pinedale, the county seat. County residents continue to work to balance energy booms with the conservation measures needed to keep life good and to keep tourists coming back.