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UW Assesses Public Perceptions of Niobrara Shale Oil Formation Development


November 10, 2011 — Residents of three Wyoming counties are being interviewed for a University of Wyoming project to assess people's perspectives about a potential oil boom in southeast Wyoming.

UW American Heritage Center archivist Leslie Waggener leads an oral history project to assess the social, economic and environmental concerns resulting from development that could take place in the Niobrara Shale formation, identified for its strong potential for oil production. Waggener is conducting interviews with people in Platte, Goshen and eastern Laramie counties. Interviewees include landowners, business owners, county/town officials and industry personnel.

The Niobrara Shale oral history project follows a similar effort to learn about the impacts of a natural gas boom in Sublette County. Having learned of that project, former Gov. Dave Freudenthal recognized that such an effort could provide insights into the Niobrara Shale formation development.

"They were already thinking ahead to the possibility of a boom in the Niobrara play, encompassing portions of several Wyoming counties, and thought that our efforts might provide insights important for the Niobrara communities to be better prepared than were those in Sublette," Waggener says.

The Sublette project also piqued the interest of UW School of Energy Resources Director Mark Northam, who saw the potential of a project that would record individuals before, during and after development of the Niobrara Shale field.

"I believe the best way to understand all the impacts -- positive and negative -- that development has on society is to record the experiences of those who live through it," Northam says. "This program will help those facing new energy developments to better prepare for the experience."

SER provided a grant to fund the Niobrara Shale project. Each interview is being filmed with the assistance of UW Television. The interviews will become part of the UW American Heritage Center's archival collections and will be accessible to any interested party including students, teachers, scholars and the public.

Program materials for the Sublette County project are available online at http://www.uwyo.edu/ahc/index.html under the link "Digital Collections." The AHC is constructing a website for the program that will include a program description; contextual information about Wyoming's minerals-based boom-and-bust cycle; audio files and transcripts of interviews; background materials (socioeconomic data, federal agency reports, news articles, etc.); photographs; and program outcomes such as scholarly works and clips from AHC-sponsored events pertaining to the program. The website will be accessible this spring.

If a boom does occur in southeastern Wyoming, the objective of the project is to follow up with interviewees to ask about their experiences during the boom period and then again when the boom impacts diminish, Waggener says.

The AHC is UW's manuscripts repository, university archives and rare books library. It is one of the largest and most actively used non-governmental primary source repositories in the U.S.  In addition to outstanding collections documenting the history of most aspects of the Rocky Mountain West, the AHC has internationally acclaimed holdings in popular entertainment (TV, radio, film), aviation and aerospace, railroads, journalism, conservation, aspects of U.S. military history, economic geology and ranching. Its award-winning website is at www.uwyo.edu/ahc/index.html.

For more information about the Sublette County oral history project or the Niobrara Shale oil play oral history project, contact Waggener at lwaggen2@uwyo.edu or telephone (307) 766-2557.

Photo:
American Heritage Center archivist Leslie Waggener interviews Wheatland natives Thane Ashenhurst, center, and his father, Larry, about oil drilling occurring on the family's farm. The interview is part of an oral history project to assess the concerns about development that could take place in the Niobrara Shale formation. (UWTV)

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