Yoder was a quiet Wyoming community.
The town of 150 people sits north of Highway 152, stretching seven blocks long with Main Street at the center. It didn’t have a lot of job opportunities and its population was aging as young people moved away.
In the past couple years, that’s changed as Denver-based Western Proppants began ramping up its operations in Yoder. The company mines frac sand in Torrington, which is then trucked to a processing facility in Yoder.
The trucks hauling sand roll into town by the dozens — about 100 to 150 per day.
“The other night, my wife counted 20 trucks that went by in 30 minutes,” Yoder Mayor Norman Feagler told Cowboy State Daily.
Feagler said that the operations have brought jobs to the community, as well as some tax revenues, but that’s come with a lot of dust and noise.
Drifts Like Snow
The sand is used in hydraulic fracturing operations in the oil and gas industry. When shale deposits are drilled and fractured, the sand is pumped down into the cracks to help keep them open and allow oil and gas to flow to the surface.
Feagler began complaining to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) about the impacts of the company’s operations. He also contacted the Wyoming Department of Transportation, Goshen County Sheriff’s Office and the Environmental Protection Agency — all to no avail.
As a last-ditch effort in July 2022, he reached out to Gov. Mark Gordon in hopes of getting some kind of relief.
“The town of Yoder is constantly being covered in dust,” Feagler wrote in his letter to the governor.
He called the dust a health hazard and said some residents have so much dust blowing into their properties it “drifts like snow.”
The dirt blows over their sewer lagoon and blasts the paint off the water tower, he wrote.
The DEQ did finally take action.
In November 2022, the DEQ sent Western Proppants a notice of violation. The DEQ stated in the notice that Western Proppants had violated air quality standards.
In August of this year, the company signed an agreement that contained multiple requirements to minimize dust, and the state fined the company $100,000.
Feagler said that the company has been showing a real commitment to addressing the problems.
“I do know they’re working on it. The DEQ was kind of slow at the start, but I think they’re coming around now,” Feagler said.
He said the company installed, at its own expense, digital speed signs on both ends of Yoder to warn people driving on the highway that they’re blasting through a 30 mph speed limit.
“The company is trying to improve,” Feagler said.
Tony Curcio, spokesperson for Western Proppants, told Cowboy State Daily the company, which has been in Yoder for more than 10 years, is trying to be a good neighbor.
“We are proud of the jobs that we have created and the support for working families in southeast Wyoming. We work closely with regulators on our commitment to safe operations and best environmental practices including air quality,” Curcio said.
He said the company is recognized as one of the safest places to work in the state.
Yoder resident Jerry Smith praised Dietzler Co., which is the parent company of Western Proppants. He said the town offered young people no reason to stay previously, and now there are 40 full-time jobs, as well as a batch of contractors, at the facility.
“As far as I’m concerned, their [Dietzler] companies are probably the best thing that’s happened to Yoder,” Smith said.
Over In Torrington
Herb Doby, mayor of Torrington, told Cowboy State Daily the company isn’t causing problems for his town.
The sand mine is near the prison and the trucks, Doby said, use roads that avoid any of the town’s streets. He said there’s one intersection that might need to have a stop light put in.
“Other than that, it has no impact on the city of Torrington,” Doby said.
He said that he’s heard the company contracts 250 trucks to haul sand, which means a lot of driver jobs.
“I think those guys are making pretty good wages,” Doby said.
He said he’s had only one complaint — from a resident of Yoder — about the company’s operations.
“I’m quite happy with it,” Doby said.
Todd Peterson, who also lives in Torrington, told Cowboy State Daily the company has had an overall positive impact on the area.
“I know they’re working on some mitigation trying to get that better for the people that live close by,” Peterson said.
Peterson said that the facility is where the old grain elevator used to be, and farmers hauling grain kicked up quite a bit of dust back when it was operating.
Smith, who's lived in the area for 80 years, said he was hauling wheat to the elevator when he was 12 years old in the early 1950s.
“There was a lot more dirt around then than there is now,” Peterson said.