These photographs were made to live alongside the words of J.J. Anselmi, for the book,"Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown". Below, words from JJ, in regards to rock springs and the project, featured in The New Republic.
"It’s always feast or famine in Rock Springs. In the 1970s, this wind-worn mining town in southwest Wyoming was the site of an immense energy boom. Men from across the country moved in to make fast money in coal, oil, gas, or trona (the raw material for soda ash, which in turn is used to make glass, paper, baking soda, and other products). My dad worked at the Jim Bridger power plant for nearly 15 years, first dumping huge trucks of coal ash, then laboring in the warehouse. He met my mom during the ’70s boom.
Then the oil fields dried up. Demand for trona fell sharply, and soon workers were getting laid off at Jim Bridger (thankfully for us, my dad was able to keep his job). As one resident, Tammy Morley, told me, “It seemed to me like the boom left all at once. The town was dead. The oil fields got sucked dry. All the rest just went away.”
When I was growing up, a persistent anxiety gnawed at our lives. My friends and I rode our BMX bikes across the endless stretches of dusty prairie, and local kids started their own punk and metal scene—so, in some ways, it was as good a place as any to call home. But there was always an underlying uncertainty about what would happen to our town, which bubbled up in destructive ways. Money was tight for most people. The suicide rate was staggeringly high. There was a lot of meth use and the start of an opioid epidemic.
I graduated high school in 2004 and tried to go to school in Colorado, but I dropped out. When I came back to Rock Springs in 2005, the hydraulic fracturing boom had begun. The town and its surrounding areas sit on vast underground stores of natural gas and shale oil. And the mad rush to extract this untapped store of energy changed everything.
Suddenly, every hotel was filled with roughnecks from across the country. Rent got much more expensive, and stucco neighborhoods sprouted up like an invasive plant species. Guys with huge work trucks blasted around town. Most of my friends got jobs with Halliburton or one of the other companies doing fracking out in the massive Jonah Field. At the time, we had the biggest Halliburton fracking facility in the country, its arsenal of red trucks and heavy-duty equipment on militaristic display. Schlumberger had its own battery of blue trucks and equipment on the other side of town.
There was suddenly, too, a lot of money. But this blessing, as so much else in this country, would turn out to be a nightmare in disguise. This is the story of Rock Springs’ last boom, as told by the people who lived through it (some of their names have been changed or withheld to protect their privacy). "
"Out Here on Our Own: An Oral History of an American Boomtown", will be released in 2022, by the University of Nebraska Press.