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.
Prospectors first struck oil in the Salt Creek Oil Field in northern Natrona County, Wyo. late in the 1880s. The first gusher came in in 1908. The subsequent boom lasted until the late 1920s, peaking in 1923, when the field produced more than 35 million barrels of oil. Tom Wall, who went to work in the field in 1917, stayed for decades and in the 1970s wrote out his memories of life in the oil patch through boom and bust. After 125 years and thanks to new technologies, the Salt Creek Field continues to produce today.
Green River, Wyo., on its namesake river and on the Union Pacific Railroad, began as a stage station. After the U.P. relocated switching and roundhouse operations there in the early 1870s, the Green River rail yard became one of the busiest in the nation. Since the early 1900s, this county seat of Sweetwater County has weathered many booms and busts of nearby oil, gas and trona development, with the railroad and county government steadying its economy all the while.