Wyoming Booms with Natural Gas NPR's "On the Road" series resumes with reporter Jeff Brady in Rock Springs, Wyo. The Cowboy State is experiencing a boom in natural gas production, which is creating jobs and keeping taxes low. But people there have mixed feelings about the government.
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Wyoming Booms with Natural Gas

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Wyoming Booms with Natural Gas

Wyoming Booms with Natural Gas

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Two NPR reporters are out on the road this month. Jeff Brady and Andrea Seabrook are crossing the country talking to Americans about their relationship with the government. Andrea started off in South Carolina; Jeff began in Oregon. And today, he takes us to Rock Springs, Wyoming, which is experiencing a boom in natural gas production.

JEFF BRADY reporting:

Trapped within the Rocky Mountains are vast reserves of gas. And in Rock Springs, a town of about 20,000, there are a lot of people working to unleash that gas. In the evening, hotel parking lots are packed with trucks sporting oil company logos.

(Soundbite of machinery; beeping noise)

BRADY: Around town bulldozers clear rocks and sagebrush to make way for new houses and businesses, all this to serve workers who've come from all over the country to take the 18-dollar-an-hour jobs being offered. I wanted to ask a few of these workers how they feel about their government, so I went to the one place in town where I could find workers with a little bit of downtime in between the wash and spin cycles.

(Soundbite of laundromat noises)

BRADY: At the Imperial Laundry, some of the coin-operated washers and driers are marked as `greasers.' These are the machines gas field workers are supposed to use.

Mr. MATTHEW BERLE(ph): Hi. My name's Matthew Berle. I'm working pipeline for Joe Max Construction out of Kansas, just an operator going where the money is.

BRADY: Berle is here with his fiancee and six-month-old daughter. He's pretty sour on government. When he was young, he says social workers separated him from his dad because of abuse allegations. Later, Berle says, the military changed his brother for the worse.

Mr. BERLE: I don't vote. I don't care for any of the decisions they make, so I try and just stay away from it. I don't agree with anything that go on--I don't agree with what they did overseas. I don't agree with that. And after what happened, you would have thought gas prices would have went down, and, well, obviously, that ain't happening. They keep going up.

BRADY: The war in Iraq is a popular topic at the laundry. Vern Fisher works in the gas fields for Halliburton. He says his view of the war changed over time.

Mr. VERN FISHER (Halliburton Employee): I was kind of against it in the beginning, but I'm kind of glad that it took place because the people over there got liberty. And I think everybody deserves a chance to have some freedom, freedom of choices, religion and all that good stuff.

BRADY: Darlene Taylor(ph) doesn't work in the fields; she's here waiting for a load to finish in one of the non-greaser machines. She lives about 40 miles away, but this is the closest laundry where she can wash her heavy blankets.

Ms. DARLENE TAYLOR: Well, I wish they'd end the war, but I can understand why they're going through with it. I don't have any problems with Bush and what he's doing, you know. But my biggest issue is just the right to life.

BRADY: Taylor opposes abortion, but says she doesn't get involved in politics unless they run up against her religion, and then she puts pen to paper.

It's a nice, sunny day, so not wanting to spend all of it inside of a hot laundry, I headed outdoors.

(Soundbite of golf swing)

Mr. DUSTIN HANSEN: Holy cow!

(Soundbite of laughter)

BRADY: At the city-owned golf course, Dustin Hansen is a little disappointed in his swing. He's 24 years old and spent four years in the military. But when asked about his relationship with the government, the war is not what comes to mind.

Mr. HANSEN: One thing they need to work on is wolves.

BRADY: Wolves kill ranchers' livestock and, Hansen says, they're competing with hunters, too.

Mr. HANSEN: Their predation on the deer and elk are getting a little bit ridiculous, and they need to set up some sort of regulation to be able to hunt them or trap them, do something like that.

BRADY: Wolves in Wyoming are still listed under the Endangered Species Act. The state has been fighting with the federal government over relaxing restrictions on killing animals that could threaten livestock.

Over on the putting green, Ron Hughes says he spent 20 years in the Navy before coming back home to Rock Springs to work as a carpenter. He worries about the future of veterans' benefits. When it comes to local government, though...

Mr. RON HUGHES: We got a real problem right now with meth.

BRADY: There are billboards around town warning about the downsides of methamphetamine use. Hughes says there's been talk of building a new treatment center.

Mr. HUGHES: And I'm thinking that's the way to go rather than just sticking people in jail. And they're not productive unless we get them back online, you know, and show them there's another way.

BRADY: Hughes says overall, he's pretty satisfied with the government. A good economy from the natural gas boom helps. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

NORRIS: You can follow Jeff's progress and read his online diary at npr.org.

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