Until very recently, Sublette County, Wyoming was a bustling hub for the oil industry. Now – locals are struggling to make ends meet.
Starting a few years ago, companies profiting off of the local public land gas fields began cutting back due to decrease in demand, but when the pandemic hit, things took a turn for the worse.
“Right now, not much going on, you know, we’ve been working little hours,” said Antonio Magana, owner of a small oil and gas well servicing company that depended on the leasing of land in the region’s most fruitful public land gas field.
“A lot of people lost their jobs a month ago, a lot of people,” he said to NPR.
Magana and many others have built their lives and businesses around the leasing of public land in order to produce oil, and even in the face of a global pandemic they were hopeful the industry would bounce back. Now, with a recent Executive Order from the Biden Administration putting an “indefinite pause” on new leases for federal ground such as Jonah Field, Magana and many others fear the region, and industry as a whole, may never recover.
Although only 10% of America’s oil and gas comes from federal land, a whopping 90% of the natural gas in Wyoming is mined using leases on public land. With an estimated 6,000 mining jobs already eliminated in the past year, Wyoming researchers expect that the ‘indefinite pause’ on public land leasing could cost local Wyoming governments as much as $300 million a year.
“We’re looking at schools with no kids in them, teachers that don’t have jobs because you can’t hire teachers if you don’t have kids to teach,” says Joel Bousman, a commissioner in Sublette County, about the effects already being felt in the community.
“We’re worried about total devastation of our economy in this county if this is truly an indication of the direction he wants to go,” he says. “Which he [Biden] has said it is.”
Just a year ago, there were 21 drilling rigs across Wyoming. Today, there are no more than six.
“There ain’t nothin’ to do, I mean, we could go over the road, but all you’re doing is paying for fuel and a driver,” said local truck driver and trucking company owner Jake Dennis about the situation.
“You can’t even keep enough to keep the trucks going.”