Rancher Perceptions of Energy Development in Southwest Wyoming

Project Partners

Wyoming Department of Agriculture

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How Does Energy Development Affect the Fabric of Life in Rural Communities?

Energy and other forms of development can have large effects on ranching and farming communities. These communities have been characterized as small, isolated, stable, interdependent, and independent of outsiders. Energy development can devastate such communities because the informal institutions that hold them together (for example, community meetings) are disrupted and replaced by formal institutions. Many people may begin to feel like outsiders in their own communities as the population grows and changes rapidly, causing them to feel less satisfaction with their lives and move away. The lack of current research on how energy development affects ranching communities provides an opportunity for further study. This WLCI study evaluates perceptions about these and other issues facing ranchers overall to get a more complete picture of how ranchers perceive effects of energy development.

Survey Says…..

In collaboration with the Wyoming Department of Agriculture, USGS research­ers developed a survey to assess rancher and farmer perceptions about energy development. We mailed 860 surveys to randomly selected agricultural operators in counties encompassed by the WLCI area (Lincoln, Sublette, Uinta, Sweetwater, and Carbon Counties) and the portion of Fremont County that lies within the WLCI boundary. The survey first queried respondents on the importance of the 28 Quality of Life compo­nents for where they live. We selected these Quality of Life components based on previous research. The components ranged across four general categories: community life, economics, environmental, and recreation. We received 205 completed surveys for a 24 percent return rate.


Key Findings

  • 42% of respondents currently had some form of energy development on their land, the majority of which was for oil or gas and 71% would encourage future energy development.
  • 90% or more of the respondents indicated water quality, air quality, and open space as important for where they live.
  • More than 60% of the respondents indicated that economic components such as employment, wages, community economic development, and small business development are seen as positively affected by energy development.
  • Over 60% of respondents indicated negative effects of energy development on the crime rate and on illicit drugs in the area.
  • 35–48% indicated that affordable housing, open space, scenery/views, and community values are also negatively affected by energy development.
  • Many community services such as medical facilities and police/fire services are seen as being positively affected by energy development whereas recreation components, air quality, and traffic are seen as being negatively affected.
  • Over 70% of the respondents indicated concern about six potential impacts: private property rights infringement, increases in noxious weeds, increased number of roads, human-caused losses of livestock, decreasing land values, and reduced water quality.
  • Ranchers and farmers should not be grouped as having only one perspective, but need to be seen as having a variety of views.

Study Objectives

  • Develop an understanding of how ranchers frame the underlying issues and conflicts related to energy development.
  • Address whether or not the issues and conflicts differ with different energy types.
  • Develop an understanding of how ranchers view their social well-being in the midst of energy development, including what they believe they have gained or lost.
  • Identify how ranchers frame issues/impacts on federal lands differently than on private lands.
  • Identify ranchers’ perceptions toward policy-making, both at a local and national level, including how ranchers perceive the science on which policies are based.
Bar chart showing the top important quality of life factors for communities.

People value the communities where they live. This figure illustrates the value survey respondents place the top 14 Quality of Life Factors listed on the survey. Click to enlarge.

What is Quality of Life?

Quality of life is usually defined as a person’s general well-being, and may include individual perceptions of a variety of factors such family, work, finances, local community services, com­munity relationships, surrounding environ­ment, and other important aspects of their life, ultimately leading to life satisfaction. Energy development can have an effect on quality of life components for rural residents.

Community Life Economic
  • Affordable housing
  • Responsiveness of local government
  • Community economic development
  • Availability of ranching supplies
  • Sanitation services quality
  • Employment opportunities
  • Community size
  • School (number of students)
  • Salary amount
  • Community values
  • School quality
  • Small business development
  • Crime rate
  • Traffic congestion
  • Fire Services Quality
Recreation Environmental
  • Friendliness/neighborliness
  • Fishing opportunities
  • Air quality
  • Illicit drugs in area
  • Hunting opportunities
  • Open space
  • Medical facilities (amount)
  • Outdoor recreation opportunities
  • Scenery/views
  • Medical facilities (quality)
  • Tourism opportunities
  • Water quality


Bar chart showing top positive and negative effects of energy development on respondents' aspects of life.

Energy development in southwest Wyoming can affects the attributes that people consider important for where they live. This figure illustrates top positive and negative effects of energy development to survey respondent’s aspects of life. Click to enlarge

Generally, most survey participants felt neutral about these 15 quality of life factors. However, for those who weren't neutral, this figure shows how strongly these respondents felt about the influence of energy development on these factors.