In Wyoming, a Covid Wave, a struggling energy economy and a thriving refuge for the rich

In Wyoming, a Covid Wave, a struggling energy economy and a thriving refuge for the rich

Oil prices fell sharply in April as the coronavirus dropped global energy markets – and the Wyoming economy went with it.

Anyone familiar with the economy of the least populous state will tell you that Wyoming is an energy hub, producing 40% of the country’s coal and 15 times more energy than it consumes. In 2018, energy production was third only in Texas and Pennsylvania. But by the second quarter of 2020, the state had lost 1 in 5 energy jobs due to falling prices.

In Douglas, Wyoming, a small town of about 6,000 and the home of Converse County, most of the revenue comes from the energy-related sales tax, said City Governor Jonathan Teichert. So far, they have raised about a third of the revenue they had so far last year.

“We have reduced our budget by 25 percent since last year, and that was probably very optimistic,” he said.

The Dave Johnson coal-fired power station is pictured against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyoming on July 27, 2018.J. David Ake / AP file

When the oil sank, the companies closed the wells and fired the workers. Teichert said school enrollment fell this year because the unemployed simply took their families and left. It was a difficult time for many residents who were left without many employment options and only now are they facing the growing Covid-19 cases, eight months into the pandemic.

In much of Wyoming, the energy industry “has already acquired the cheap and easy resources of oil and gas,” said Kyle Tisdel, a Western Environmental Law attorney studying state economic growth. Thus, companies turned to more expensive methods, such as horizontal fracking.

“You’re talking about a dead end of $ 50, $ 60 a barrel and $ 40 to $ 45,” he said. “All signs indicate that we are not going to go much higher than this for the foreseeable future.”

Without profits, companies leave. “Communities bear the burden and are the first to feel the impact,” Tisdel said.

But if you do not live in the state, Wyoming may seem like the open border, where celebrities like Kanye West go to escape and relax, or maybe lease their land rights to fracking companies.

When California was plagued by wildfires, YouTube and the late Jeffree Star went to his home in Wyoming.

“It’s such a weird atmosphere here in California,” Starr said in the history of Instagram. “That means it’s time to go to Wyoming, so I’ll go jet now and leave for a few days.”

This scenario, where energy companies leave the state immediately while the super-rich resort to the state, is a sign of “structural decline,” Tisdel said.

This summer, as unemployment rose across the state, Jackson Hole, the popular ski destination and one of America’s most economically uneven areas, had a busy season ever. The The real estate industry broke records with sales of 14% and over $ 1.5 billion in real estate spent in just the first nine months of 2020.

Still, while companies may be leaving, the rich are coming in part because of Wyoming’s place in the public imagination, Justin Farrell, a sociology professor at Yale University and author the book “Billionaire Wilderness” he said.

For the wealthy, Wyoming incorporates escaping both the pandemic and other problems, where open skies and empty pastures can help clear your mind. As states locked in, Wyoming remained open. “We have socially distanced ourselves from the 130 years we have been a state,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo. “Fox & Friends” in April, explaining why Wyoming had not issued a residence permit.

The rich had already appeared by then, and the way they continue to experience the pandemic seems very different from most others in the state. Covid-19, in Wyoming and elsewhere across the country, showed these inequalities naked.

If you live on a multi-million dollar ranch in Jackson Hole, you have access to private doctors. You may have brought your own respirator when you left the state, Farrell said. But elsewhere in the state, where there are only about 5 people per square mile, residents are left vulnerable in the job market and generally do not have access to health care. The population is elderly and at average health at risk, and many people live away from clinics.

Luxury shelters like Jackson Hole translate into more money spent in the community, for sure, but elites moving to income-free Wyoming often do so to avoid taxes. Farrell believes politicians in the state “choose the superfamily from their neighbors” and Wyoming needs to do more to hold big companies coming to Wyoming for its resources, “use and leave” and abandoning employees who did. rich.

Visitors can expect to see the Old Faithful explode in Yellowstone National Park on June 15, 2020, outside of Jackson, Wyo.George Frey Archive / Getty Images

Now, the spread of the virus is out of control in Wyoming, as is the case in much of the interior West. The state reported a 475% increase in cases in late October and since then, the spread has continued. The state has been recorded more than 21,300 cases of the coronavirus since the onset of the pandemic, more than 15,000 of which have occurred since 1 October.

“The crisis is here, and it will get worse,” Farrell said.

In the harsh country of New York, about 1 in 32 people signed Covid-19. In Albany County, Wyoming, where Laramie is located, it is about 1 in 18. I do not have a mask command, but Albany County raised its position last week, just days after the death of a coroner who had positive results for the coronavirus, and the governor announced that he should be isolated after exposed to the virus during an encounter which included the coordinator of the White House task force, Dr. Deborah Birx.

In Converse County, Wyoming, Director of Public Health Nurses Darcey Cowardin and her team are working to level the curve of their own increase in cases. The border county with over 13,500 people has registered 396 casesand as of Friday they had 118 active cases. These are astronomical numbers for such a small community.

“Our hospital is being hit very hard,” Cowardin said. The contact tracker is shocked, the virus enters the schools and the cover is a nightmare to enforce. Most of the spread comes from family gatherings, bars and local events.

“The bottom has fallen,” Cowardin said of the energy collapse. “Add the pandemic, and our community and county have been hit very hard.”

Part of the problem is that for a long time, the virus did not implement very strongly in Converse. In August and September, Wyoming recorded a few dozen cases across the country on a bad day. The crisis that is unfolding throughout the country does not seem to be coming, many residents felt. And when it did, the tiny hospitals had no way of getting ready and they were not all on board to stop the spread.

“We are in a community where no one wants to tell us what to do,” he said. “There is only this pocket of people who do not want to accept that this is a thing.”

Cowardin said a team of first-timers recently entered the public health department office in Douglas, harassing and videotaping them after being asked to wear masks. Telephone lines flooded people, many from abroad, shouting horrible things at employees.

“It’s so hard to be in public health right now,” he said.

He also said that it is difficult to meet the needs. Food banks and local aid resources are in greater demand than ever. Contact detection has become so rampant that the county is no longer able to reach quarantined individuals and is asking people with the Koran to do their own contact detection if they can. People in the county have been left with long-term complications from the disease and deaths are on the rise.

Not far from Cowardin’s office in Douglas is the huge 60,000-acre RuPaul Charles superstar farm. RuPaul he told NPR earlier in March the farm “is really land management”. It leases mineral and water rights to fracking companies and grazing rights to farms.

But when RuPaul is in and around Converse County, he doesn’t care much about what’s going on around or under him. “I meditate, and I pray,” he said. “And I have a wonderful time watching the immobility. And there is great calm on the ranch. “

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