The One Minute Geographer: The Great Plains and Even More Energy

Jim Fonseca
2 min readOct 27, 2021
Map from US National Park Service. Meridian, red oval showing coal fields, and black dots added by the author. (North dot shows Williams County; south dot shows McKenzie.)

We saw in previous posts on the One Minute Geographer how we can learn about the Great Plains by following the 100-degree meridian (longitude line). We saw how that line very roughly follows some of the windiest areas of the USA and how the Plains have become a major area of wind energy production.

Those areas of wind energy production are shown again on the map above but we’re adding major oil and gas producing regions of the Great Plains. After all, the line runs through the western parts of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, all major oil and gas producing states. Texas alone produces 43% of US oil — not all in western Teas near the meridian, but an awful lot of it is produced near there. In addition, in just the last decade or so, fields in North Dakota have become major oil producers. North Dakota is now the second-ranked state with about 10% of US oil production.

Because of the North Dakota oil boom, McKenzie County ND was the fastest-growing county in the US from 2010 to 2020, more than doubling its population from about 6,000 to 15,000 people. Nearby Williams County added about 10,000 people to its 2010 base of 22,000. Those two counties are shown by black circles on the map.

But wait (like the TV infomercial guy says at 2 am) — there’s more: What state that begins with a ‘W’ is the largest coal producer? If you said West Virginia, you get the ‘nasty buzzer.’ It’s Wyoming, especially the eastern half of the state on the Great Plains, the Powder River coalfield region. Wyoming is the Texas of the coal world, with 41% of US coal production. Some of that coal overlaps into western North Dakota, eastern Montana and a bit of South Dakota. This coal area is roughly shown by the red oval on the map.

Follow the One Minute Geographer on Medium for more about the 100-degree meridian and the Great Plains.

Here’s the next post in this series:

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Jim Fonseca

Geography professor (retired) writes The One Minute Geographer featuring This Fragile Earth. Top writer in Transportation and, in past months, Travel.