Far removed from the gas fields of Pennsylvania and North Dakota, and even farther removed from the oil fields in the Middle East lies the Uintah Basin. Apart from the Uintah Mountains, the Uintah Basin, my current home is a collection of relatively nondescript rural communities.
Traditionally, the Basin has relied on cattle, sheep and tourism, and a strong presence of federal resource management agencies to provide wages to its inhabitants.
But in the 1980’s and again in the early 21st Century the Basin experienced a boom in the energy industry, and all systems were go until the ascent of President Obama.
In seven years, jobs in the Uintah Basin rose from 5,500 in 2001 to 9,000 in 2008. Uintah County Commissioner Darlene Burns, quoting the Utah Department of Workforce Services noted “For several years, virtually no one applied for unemployment.”
With the advent of the Obama Administration and the appointment of Ken Salazar as Secretary of the Interior, during 2009, 3,121 jobs disappeared. 70 percent of those job losses occurred in the construction and mining industries. By July of 2009, one thousand people in the Uintah Basin were collecting unemployment benefits.
A startling number to be sure. And the effect on the residents of the Basin even more so, as their stories bear out:
“In the last year I have seen my friends lose their houses due to mortgage foreclosure. I have seen people struggling to feed their children making decisions between buying groceries or paying bills.”
"My husband used to get 40 hours a week and now (he) is lucky to get more than 20 hours a week which isn’t enough to pay the bills much less buy food for our children.”
“I work at a restaurant locally owned for 35 years. I went from working 30 hours a week to 13, but even worse, we are risk of shutting our doors.”
“My husband does not work in the oil field however; his work is highly impacted by the growth and development of our city. The sales tax revenues continue to plummet since this whole public lands mess began. He did not receive a cost of living raise this year. We had been counting on that raise to help with the money for treating our 3 year old autistic son….If the leaders could come to our beautiful town now, I hope they would see the empty homes and weeping wives and children after they learn their husband and father’s job would no longer exist."
From, a nurse/EMT: “People who have never had to ask for free food now show up at the food pantry…I have had the privilege thanks to your pulling of the leases and shutting down the drilling to be directly involved in suicide recovery from fathers who have lost their jobs.”