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Sophomores Traverse Wyoming for ‘Energy in the West’ Course

Dec 16 2014

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Sally Benson

A dragline excavator removes topsoil from an open-pit coal mine in the Powder River Basin, WY.

What happens when we turn on the light switches in our home? Where does that energy come from, and how does it remain available 24/7? As the second- and 10th-largest energy producer in the United States and in the world, respectively, Wyoming provided a unique backdrop for the Bill Lane Center for the American West's 2014 Sophomore College course.

On a 1,500-mile tour around the state, students observed its large seams of coal (some more than 100 feet thick) and one of the largest gas fields discovered in the United States in the early 1990s, among other energy resources. They also learned how extraction of these natural resources has complex relationships with the state's politics, economics and culture.

Through Stanford's intensive three-week Sophomore College program, the Bill Lane Center takes 12 students into the West each autumn to study a particular topic in depth. This year's journey was led by professors Sally Benson (energy resources engineering), Bruce Cain (political science), and David Freyberg (civil and environmental engineering) with the help of graduate students Grayson Badgley (environmental earth system science) and Sherri Billimoria (earth systems). The students met with operators, regulators, and politicians at both the state and federal levels to understand Wyoming's energy landscape. We are excited to share their stories, photos and final projects with you.

READ MORE ABOUT SOPHOMORE COLLEGE »