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At What Cost?

I just returned from a week in Pinedale, Wyoming, where my fiancé’s great-uncle, Grant Beck, an 82-year-old local and long-time ranching celebrity of southwest Wyoming, has owned and operated a ranch for 63 years.

Grant’s ranch is a piece of heaven, complete with a barn, livestock, and endless views that stretch for miles into the Wind River mountains.  However, a few years ago, one of the largest reserves of methane gas in the country was discovered underneath Pinedale. Almost overnight, Grant told us, gas rigs and derricks sprang up on the BLM land surrounding Pinedale.

The rigs are most visible at night under a new moon. I saw that the lights coming off the derricks are so bright they erase any visible stars a quarter of the way up into the sky. And with the discovery of gas came the workforce that the gas fields demanded. Houses are beginning to clutter the outskirts of Pinedale. The town’s air is changing, and stickers reading "No Ozone" are appearing on the bumpers of beat-up work trucks.

Grant and his wife Abie are saddened by what’s going on. She knows that the gas won’t last forever, and when it’s finally gone, the changes that have been made to Pinedale won’t be. The main topics of conversation in Pinedale have shifted from where to get good hay or where the early-summer snowmelt has receded enough to go hiking; and now centers on the gas derricks, all the new crowds, and the skyrocketing cost of living. Rents in Pinedale are rapidly approaching those of the San Francisco Bay Area.

The night before we left the ranch, Grant and Abie shared pictures of what Pinedale looked like 15 years ago, before the gas fields were discovered. True enough, the town has changed drastically in that time and will continue to change at an escalating rate. I’m sure there is untold economic opportunity lying under the ground in that bubble of gas, and can’t help but wonder, if after it’s all gone, if it will really be worth it.

Tags:  public lands

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