"Last bastion" of the American Dream?: Exploring the effects of recent energy "booms" on community well-being in the Intermountain West

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Richard Krannich


Rural sociologists have for decades studied the impacts of natural resource 'dependency' and 'boom and bust' cycles of energy extraction industries upon rural communities. While popular accounts of energy booms sing the praises of newly found prosperity, the majority of scholars have argued that, in rural settings, extractive industries bear repercussions that are harmful to community well-being, over the long run. However, more rigorous, generalizable research is needed to inform this ongoing conversation. This study investigates the socioeconomic impacts of three recent energy booms on rural counties in the Intermountain West ' natural gas, oil, and utility-scale wind energy ' as well as counties with coal mining, an historic staple of Western economies. Findings indicate that in counties with high natural gas and oil production, economic well-being is significantly buoyed while the rate of poverty and unemployment have gone down. Wind energy's socioeconomic impact is still too small to detect, though better research methods could influence this finding. This article explores cautionary interpretations of these findings and calls for continued and expanded monitoring of communities during inevitable future "busts" of traditional extractive industries.

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