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.
Oil seeps were reported often in the early 19th century in what later became Wyoming; it was sold, for example to Oregon Trail travelers for wagon lubricant. The first producing well in Wyoming Territory was drilled in 1883 at Dallas Dome southeast Lander. Perhaps the state’s best-known historic oil producing region is the Salt Creek Field, north of Casper, which was one of the world’s largest-producing fields in the 1920s. Oil remains an important part of Wyoming’s economy and culture today, and the state is ranked high among the top national producers.