State: Wyoming is a ‘wonderland’ of energy potential
— February 26, 2014
After presenting its annual report to Wyoming legislators earlier this year, the Wyoming State Geological Survey publicized its report in a press release touting Wyoming as a “wonderland” of energy potential for the nation.
“If Wyoming stopped producing coal, natural gas, and uranium, significant portions of the U.S. would go dark in a couple of months,” WSGS director Tom Drean stated in the release.
Wyoming’s largest energy production comes in the form of mining coal — an industry that churned out 401 million tons in 2012 (down significantly from the industry’s highest annual production level of 467 million tons in 2008). The same year, Wyoming produced more than 57.5 million barrels of oil and a total of 2.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, according to the WSGS. Wyoming is also the nation’s key producer of uranium for nuclear power, with in-situ production capacity in the state on the rise to help meet increasing world demand.
The WSGS report goes on to provide some analysis of trends in the energy sectors, noting the obvious influences of outside factors that often frustrate Wyoming leaders who have little leverage in manipulating them.
“What has already impacted Wyoming’s coal production are the more stringent limits on carbon dioxide power plant emissions from new coal-fired power plants which has led to fuel switching to natural gas,” Chris Carroll, coal geologist with the WSGS, stated in the release. “However, if Wyoming can increase its export options, particularly to countries in Asia and India where demand for high-quality low-sulfur coal is increasing, production of the state’s coal could continue to grow.”
That analysis is nothing new, but for some it may come off as a bit on the side of promoting the production of Wyoming’s energy resources. Drean is careful to note, however, that is not the intent of the report, or of the WSGS.
“Really, our role is to provide information, and that’s what we’re doing; where the production has been … and where it’s going,” Drean told WyoFile in a phone interview. While fossil fuel proponents see good news in the report — Wyoming is not resource-limited — others who are not in favor of more fossil fuel production might view the report differently.
“This information is actually used quite a bit by the general public, it’s used by the legislature and used by industry. … It’s used a lot by schools. We even get requests from overseas,” said Drean.
It will come as no surprise that Wyoming’s top elected leaders are in the business of promoting continued and increasing levels of fossil fuel production (read this recent story), along with other forms of energy resources in the state. State lawmakers have appropriated money for the state administration to travel internationally to promote coal exports and other Wyoming minerals (along with Wyoming agriculture and tourism) to the tune of $150,000), as well as a war chest to fight the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. During this budget session, lawmakers have contemplated setting aside $2.2 million for the state’s administration to do battle with EPA.
“We seem to have, or at least I seem to been having a lot of battles with the agency,” Gov. Matt Mead said in his State of the State address.
Getting back to Wyoming’s massive energy resources and its production outlook; the WSGS’s report notes that Wyoming oil production is on track to continue to grow, while natural gas “remains in a steady decline.”
“In 2013, there was a significant increase in oil production, especially in Converse, Campbell, and Laramie counties,” Rachel Toner, oil and gas geologist at the WSGS, stated in the WSGS press release. “We believe this increased production is primarily because of new drilling technology and the development of unconventional plays.”
As for coal, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts a 3.9 percent increase in coal production nationwide — significant for Wyoming because the Cowboy State is, by far, the nation’s largest coal producer, supplying some 40 percent of the nation’s coal.
While Wyoming’s coal producers struggle against the tide of stiffer regulations to control greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., keep in mind that the industry has a massively untapped resource and infrastructure to quickly dial up production should the U.S. and international market forces change. When the state’s coal producers hit the high-water annual production mark of 467 million tons in 2008, industry officials said that with the Powder River Basin infrastructure — which in no small part includes railroads — Wyoming had the capacity to dial up annual production to 500 million tons and beyond, should the market demand it.
Similarly, Wyoming’s natural gas industry is well positioned to crank up production under favorable market conditions thanks to a 10-year effort that greatly expanded pipeline export capacity to U.S. markets to the east and west of Wyoming — not to mention the potential for liquid natural gas (LNG) exports outside the U.S.
“The capacity to increase coal production and the capacity to increase natural gas production is there, given the right market circumstances,” said Drean.
Click this link to read the Wyoming State Geological Survey’s reports on the state’s energy resources.
— Dustin Bleizeffer is WyoFile editor-in-chief. He has covered energy and natural resource issues in Wyoming for 15 years. You can reach him at (307) 267-3327 or email [email protected] Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer
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