Back to the Future in Wyoming: Addressing 1980s Energy Boom Impacts in Evanston

“I’ve got to see it to believe it” was Evanston mayor Dennis Ottley’s first reaction when he heard about the Overthrust Industrial Association (OIA). A 1983 issue of the Christian Science Monitor, reported that Ottley was incredulous that an industry-backed organization would assist his southwestern Wyoming town through the growing pains of an energy boom. “I made that statement, but I ate them words,” said Ottley, adding, “I think we proved to the world that industry and local government can work together.”

The Overthrust Industrial Association (OIA) was an organization of 36 oil and gas producers and service/supply firms founded in 1980 by Chevron, Amoco, and Champlin. The OIA’s mission was to help local governments in southwestern Wyoming, northeastern Utah, and southeastern Idaho manage socioeconomic and environmental impacts caused by the rapid development of oil and gas resources in the energy-rich geological formation known as the Overthrust Belt.

There was certainly an overflow of issues for the energy companies and Evanston to tackle. Schools were packed to the rafters; oil field workers were living in their cars; construction workers had set up “bachelor camps” on the edge of town; and crime rates soared. According to a Winter 1981 article in the magazine Wyoming Issues, Evanston had grown from a population of 4,862 in 1977 to 7000+ in 1981.

image with text; number projections
Employee projections for 1981 and 1982 contained in report issued by the Lincoln-Uinta Association of Governments. Overthrust Industrial Association records, Box 1, Folder 2.

The first step by the industry-community partnership of OIA was a series of meetings, beginning in February 1981, where Evanston residents could air their grievances. Next came the establishment of a committee to present community requests to the OIA, which, as of 1983, provided about $100 million for schools, roads, water lines, sewers, and other projects.

The Monitor’s article quotes Evanston city administrators regarding the OIA. City administrator Stephen Snyder explained to the Monitor that the OIA was pushed into existence partly because of pressure from county government, which had the power to deny the building permits the companies sought. According to Mayor Ottley, by the time the OIA was launched, the people of Evanston had long been in the dark as to how big a boom to expect. “The energy companies weren’t telling us much,” Ottley said.

“But the OIA has been very good,” Julie Lehman, director of the city housing authority, told the Monitor. ”And if it never did anything but facilitate communications between industry and governmental entities, it would be worth it.”

The Monitor was somewhat patronizing in concluding, “Evanston may not be your candidate for city beautiful, but Chuck McLean of the Denver Research Group gives the city high marks for the way it has coped.”  

Besides passing out funds, the OIA retained a consulting firm, the Denver Research Group, to develop a comprehensive plan for streets, utilities, and so on, and to help the city lobby for grant money from other sources. Out of these efforts came the seed of the Evanston Renewal Ball, which still exists and has grown from a community celebration involving a handful of volunteers to a major fundraising event. The primary purpose of the Ball has become the preservation and revitalization of the downtown and the rail yards.

image with text - memo from Denver Research Group, Inc.
The Denver Research Group closely monitored media coverage for industry partners in the OIA, Overthrust Industrial Association records, Box 11, Folder 5.

As the energy boom subsided in the mid-1980s, so did the OIA. By 1984, the OIA was publishing its last issues of Overthrust News. By 1985, an energy bust had already engulfed Wyoming.

The OIA records at the UW American Heritage Center contain administrative files beginning with the development of the OIA concept in 1979 and ending with the practical shutdown of the organization in 1985. Files document interaction with local government agencies and oil and gas corporations and describe the assistance provided to impacted communities. Original order has been maintained and a printed guide to the files, written by the organization, is included.

Blog contribution by Leslie Waggener, Archivist, Arrangement and Description


This entry was posted in Economic Geology, Economic History, energy resources, Local history, Natural resources, Western history, western politics and leadership, Wyoming, Wyoming history and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply