An Oil Town on the Prairie: Bairoil, Wyoming
Bairoil, Wyoming is a small town in the northwest corner of the state that is named after Charles M. Bair. He first drilled for oil here in 1916 and founded the Bair Oil Company. Prior to that, it is the place where in 1989 Kevin Christopherson set the world hang-gliding record by riding 287 miles to North Dakota in an updraft. The geography of this town is wide open desert prairie dotted with a few lone trees and surrounded by low mountains. The skies are blue as is typical on the prairie with a few clouds here and there. This little-known place has an interesting history rooted in the heyday of America’s oil drilling.
This small town is located not too far from Sweetwater County’s seat of Green River.
You can reach it by traveling east on Interstate 85, taking the Town of Rawlins exit, and take a left on Third Street. Third Street is U.S. Highway 287 which will take you north and turn left on State Highway 73 and you’ll soon arrive at Bairoil. Bairoil is about 40 miles from Rawlins.
This town was built on oil. Charles M. Bair, who made his riches in the sheep ranching business, decided to drill here in 1916.
The area where he drilled would become known as Lost Soldier Butte. Drilling had actually begun in the fall of 1915 but was halted for the winter because they struck water instead of oil. Drilling resumed in the spring of 1916 and on June 29 the Lost Soldier A-Well No. 1 began producing 200 barrels a day.
Buildings began to sprout in Bairoil to handle the inflow of oil field workers.
Among the first buildings constructed was a boarding house. This boarding house was a popular meeting place for anyone associated with the drilling project. Bair Oil also constructed 35,000-barrel and 55,000-barrel storage tanks for storage at Lost Soldier Field and nearby Fort Steele. Fort Steele was the location of the Union Pacific Railroad which transported the oil to refineries.
In 1933, Bair Oil dissolved and no longer ran the boarding house.
However, the house would eventually close in 1941 only seeing a brief reopening to be used as a dining facility for the Prairie Oil and Gas Company. The latter company was purchased by the Sinclair Oil Company in 1932.
While there was some oil tapped from the drilling projects, the amount that gushed out was nowhere near that produced by Texas wells.
This region of Wyoming, the Green River region, has extensive shale oil deposits. In fact, it is estimated that there is over a trillion barrels of shale oil still trapped in the subsurface rock today. Drawing oil from shale is an expensive and labor-intensive job making it uncompetitive with what has been cheaper imported oil in the past. In 1996, the Society of Petroleum Engineers wrote about efforts to use carbon dioxide to extract oil from the shale (the Lost Soldier Tensleep CO2 Tertiary Project). Research continues and the area has increasingly become of great interest to the United States because of rising oil prices from other oil-exporting countries.
If you want a pizza, you may have to drive a little.
There isn’t much in the way of things to eat, see, and do here in Bairoil because of its isolation. So, if you have an urge for a late night pizza or any other modern convenience, you’ll have to drive a little. However, you are not far away from places that can satisfy your desire for modern day consumer products like Green River, Rock Springs, and Rawlins. Green River and Rock Springs are the two places with greater infrastructure. However, don’t let the shortage of pizza stop you from visiting this icon of America’s oil frontier days. Take a drive through Bairoil, Wyoming on your next trip through this beautiful prairie.