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Then and now

Jun 20, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

Our biggest edition of the year is good for cultivating the long view of a key industry

The extra-thick newspaper you're reading today is the 57th version of our annual Mining and Energy Edition. That's the name we've given it for the past few years, but it has had others.

Since it first appeared as a section of the Riverton golden anniversary edition we published in 1956, the big paper has been called several different things: the Uranium Progress Edition, the Uranium and Mining Edition, The Annual Mining Issue, the Mining and Industrial Progress Edition, Mining and Oil Progress Edition, and today's Mining and Energy Edition.

Around the office, however, it's always been called one thing: "the mining edition," reflecting its launch when uranium mining and, a few years later, iron ore mining were the industrial bedrocks of the expanding local economy.

A review of the different official names on the page one banner through the decades suggests how the publishers viewed the state's minerals and energy industry over the same period.

Sometimes one mineral was up. Sometimes non-mining support industries were more central to the edition. Sometimes "mining" was all it took to get to the point.

This year's edition tells many stories, but a worrisome theme runs through many of them. Our state's towering coal industry isn't on its best footing in 2012. And the industry that put our state so far into the black that Wyoming's budget surpluses were the drooling, panting envy of just about every other state -- natural gas -- isn't exactly on a hot streak, either.

That coincidence of economic conditions has Wyoming worried, as well it ought to be.

One of the most enjoyable parts of the mining edition each year since the early 1990s has been compiling the "Through the Years" columns featured on the front of each new section. After flipping through the big bound volumes of the old editions, and sorting through a portion of the tens of thousands of photographs (oh, yes -- there are that many), a certain realization comes to mind. It can be helpful when good, smart people are worried about the minerals and energy industry upon which we have become so reliant.

Simply put, the mining edition itself ought to make us feel better about the ailing sections of the industry. Just about every year the edition carries at least a story or two about a mine in trouble, an energy segment that's underperforming, a slowdown in a particular mineral, or an outright crisis in another.

Yet, when we turn the page, there comes another mining edition, this one carrying new stories, new headlines, new pictures, new advertisements.

What it tells us is that the minerals industry in this state always has had its stops, starts, ups, downs, shifts and detours.

But it always turns the page. The fundamentals of the demands of modern humanity are such that when coal slumps, bentonite can boom. When uranium fizzles, it can be revived in time. A challenge to the trona industry in one part of the state can be balanced by an acceleration in natural gas somewhere else.

It adds up to a big, interesting newspaper edition every year. And it also reflects a big, interesting energy and minerals industry every year as well.

The fact that there is enough business activity, enough employment, enough diversity, enough success, enough enterprise and enough determination to fill our mining edition each year means that the same conditions exist in the industry itself -- perhaps not all at the same time, or in exactly the way a textbook would spell it all out, but there just the same. If not this year, then next.

Nothing helps cultivate the "long view" better than looking through decades of old newspapers. The long view says Wyoming minerals and energy aren't going anywhere. The rest of the country wouldn't stand for it.

No, this isn't the best year for parts of that industry, which means it isn't the best year for Wyoming, either. But the industry has intelligence, endurance, experience and market demand behind it.

That was true in 1956 -- so true we decided it warranted a newspaper edition all its own. It's still true in 2012. If the past 57 years shows anything, it is that it will be true in the future as well.

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