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ADDICTIVE ECONOMIES

The American West’s economy has a lot in common with Saudi Arabia

Wyoming's coal industry is in the pits.
  • Michael J. Coren
By Michael J. Coren

Climate reporter

Published Last updated on

It’s an old joke in Wyoming that the economy is already well diversified: It produces oil, gas, and coal.

Flying over the state affords a view of fracking wells pulling oil out of the ground and coal trains carrying loads of black anthracite to power plants around the country. Nearly a fifth of the state’s workers collect a paycheck, directly or indirectly, from the fossil fuel industry. Wyoming’s treasury derives more than 50% of its revenue from the fossil fuel industry.

But these days, the joke leaves a bitter aftertaste. Amid the worst collapse in fossil fuel demand in a century, production has fallen off a cliff. Oil, gas, and coal production in the state is expected to drop by about 45% this year. Intensifying the pain, the US government recently slashed royalties on oil and gas to close to zero to bail out the industry, depriving the state of more than $240 million through 2021 (pdf; p 12).

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