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Energy & Science

U.S. Oil Boom Towns Risk Ghost Town Future

America’s oil communities have deep financial ties to the fossil fuel industry. Now even in the midst of a price boom, local governments have to start deciding when to tackle plans for the looming clean energy transition.

The oil industry makes up three-quarters of the economy in Denver City, Texas, home to roughly 5,000. 

The oil industry makes up three-quarters of the economy in Denver City, Texas, home to roughly 5,000. 

Photographer: Matthew Busch/Bloomberg

The world has spent a decade gorging on fuel from America’s shale basins, and oil prices are topping $100 a barrel. So it might seem an odd time to be contemplating the energy transition. But that's precisely the task facing the small towns across places like Texas, Wyoming and New Mexico: deciding when to move on from their bedrock industry, even when it’s in an upswing.

Recent volatile swings in the oil market are a stark reminder that even as prices rally, the next bust could be just around the corner.  The current geopolitical situation makes the contradiction even more acute. If Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means prolonged disruptions for energy supplies in the coming  months, the world will become even more dependent on U.S. oil. But in the bigger picture, governments across the globe have pledged to wean themselves off of fossil fuels, and some analysts say peak oil demand could become a reality within a decade.