It’s appropriate that some of these politics will play out in Douglas, home to the jackrabbit/antelope hybrid. On a dark and damp October afternoon, some 50 people converge on the Converse County Courthouse’s community room, down in the fluorescent-lit basement. Nearly everyone is in jeans and cowboy boots, and at least half wear baseball caps, neckerchiefs and bulky Carhartt vests.
They’re here because the county planning commission is considering a moratorium on industrial development in the mountainous part of the county in order to give it time to consider implementing wind-targeted zoning. The fledgling but already sizable Northern Laramie Range Alliance is pushing the moratorium. The group sprang up to prevent “industrialization of the high country” by the wind industry.
The moratorium shouldn’t stand a chance. Converse County is one of a handful of Wyoming counties that have no zoning whatsoever, and it has enthusiastically shot down proposals to regulate development in the past. Given the look of tonight’s crowd, this attempt at government interference will suffer the same fate. But I soon discover how dramatically the wind has muddled things in these parts. Over the next couple of hours, grizzled ranchers who, on almost any other occasion, might spit before and after they say the word “environmentalist,” stand up and tout the benefits of green energy. Classic anti-government conservatives ask the county to bring down the hammer of regulation to save their beloved mountains from energy development. An employee of one of the biggest coal mines in the nation cautions against letting wind turbines go unregulated, the way coalbed methane did.
Then, a tall, lean man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair stands up to speak. For about nine minutes, he holds the floor with pointed comments, sprinkled with humor. “The second most egregious task of government is the denial of the use of a person’s private property,” he says. “The first is when Sheriff Becker over there takes away your personal liberty.” Laughter. He swings his arms and makes a whoosh, whoosh sound to drive home the point that turbines are noisy. He worries about an influx of workers infecting the area with Gillette Syndrome — the social toll that a boom can take on the local community. Property values will plummet, he warns. The county should “take a deep breath and adopt the moratorium, because there are a lot of impacts that come with major development.” He seems utterly at ease, matter-of-factly weaving biblical references into his comments. His arguments sound heartfelt and convincing. He is a dyed-in-the wool Wyoming oilman, and his name is Diemer True.
Drive from Douglas to Casper on I-25, and you can’t miss the gargantuan bronze sculpture welcoming you to “Oil City.” From a distance, against a backdrop of a flaring refinery, it looks like a replica of the famous Marine Corps War Memorial. But get closer, and you realize that instead of Marines planting the flag at Iwo Jima, Wyoming’s conquering heroes are four hard-hatted roughnecks drilling for oil. One of the 15-foot figures bears the likeness of H.A. “Dave” True, perhaps the state’s most famous “wildcatter.”
During the 1940s, Dave True worked for Texas Co. (now Texaco) in Cody, Wyo., where he and his wife, Jean, had three kids, Tamma, Hank and Diemer. The family moved to Casper in 1948, where Dave, a quiet but tough businessman, signed on with a one-rig drilling company. By 1954, he and Jean — who appears in photographs as a statuesque, elegant Western-style woman — had started their own drilling company. True Companies bloomed into an energy, banking and ranching conglomerate, with everything from a pipeline company and a trucking business to slaughterhouses, not to mention a big chunk of Wyoming land. According to LandReport.com, today the Trues hold more than 255,000 acres, putting them among the top 30 landowners in the nation. Diemer True went to work for the family company after he graduated from college, became a partner in True Companies a few years later, and in 1972, was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives. He has lived at the nexus of Wyoming politics and petroleum ever since.
These days, True can often be found in the headquarters of Diamond Oil, which he started with his sons a few years ago. The bland cinderblock building is in the industrial part of downtown Casper; the railroad tracks lie on one side, and the larger True Companies complex sits on another. It’s steeped in ’70s-era big-energy-boom dark browns, from the paneling to the carpet that swallows your feet; the interior could serve as a set for a Wyoming version of Dallas. Colorful maps of oil and gas leases in Louisiana break up the monochrome in True’s second-story office. One of them has temporarily replaced a family photo, now leaning against the wall on the floor, that shows his 14 grandchildren. “They all think they’re either cowboys or cowgirls,” he says.