Wyoming’s coal mining industry was secure until the early 1950s, when the Union Pacific switched to diesel-powered locomotives. Laid-off miners and their families struggled; little company towns disappeared. Eventually, trona mining expanded and replaced many of the coal jobs—and in the 1970s, coal came roaring back.
The Powder River Basin coal-bed methane boom in the early 2000s stirred controversies over land rights, mineral rights, environmental stewardship, the disposal of water and—at every turn—politics. Now, few of the 29,000 wells drilled produce much gas and around 3,000 wells are abandoned and left to the state to clean up.