The oil and gas industry continues to drive down unemployment rates in parts of Wyoming, though the state average remains higher than national numbers.
The U.S. unemployment rate currently sits at 3.7 percent compared to Wyoming’s 4.2 percent. The state’s gradual climb out of a simultaneous bust in coal, oil and gas has yet to fill the gaps in jobs and state income created by the downturn. But a year and a half of favorable crude prices has shifted job numbers, particularly in areas of the state where activity in the oil and gas fields predominates.
In just one month — from September to October — the unemployment rate in Sweetwater County — a focal point for gas development — fell from 4 percent to 3.5 percent, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services.
Converse County’s unemployment rate also dropped from 3.6 percent to 3.1 percent. Converse is the richest area for current and anticipated oil and gas drilling and production in the state. The county hit a three-year record for applications for drilling permits in March, when more than 1,000 applications were submitted to the state.
In total, Wyoming has been flooded with a record number of applications, reaching 18,000 at one point recently. The influx is caused by producers jockeying for control of drilling and spacing units in Wyoming, where current rules favor first come, first served. Many of those applications will likely not result in actual drilling, according to state regulators.
There are currently a handful of rigs operating in Sweetwater County as well as the first utility-scale solar farm, which is under construction on 700 acres of mostly federally owned land near Green River. The project’s construction and early operation was anticipated to create between 150 and 300 short-term jobs.
Beyond employment, many workers are making more money per week, both in terms of their wages and the number of hours they are working, according to the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division, which creates a formula charting unemployment, wages, mining taxes and national park visits to provide a summary grade for the state’s economy. In September, due in part to the rise in private sector wages, the state’s economy continued on a positive pace that’s held since April 2017.
The mining sector is driving sales and use tax income up from its downturn lows. From January to September, total mining collections exceeded the three-year average for those months by 14.8 million.
More than 7,000 jobs have been added to the private sector in Wyoming since September of last year.