The recent downturn in oil pricing has cooled what was a hot play in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. While it’s too soon to know exactly how far oil drilling and production might drop in the next few months, the decline may also put a drag on the state’s natural gas production.
That’s because the Denver Basin in Wyoming was one of the few regions of the state where natural gas production had increased in the past year, and that gas is associated with shale oil production.
It’s also been a tough year for the state’s coal industry, which continues to lose ground to natural gas in the utility market, and faces an uncertain regulatory future.
Yet, “the state is in a good position for the long term as a result of new and improved drilling technologies and emerging resource plays,” Wyoming State Geological Survey director Tom Drean said in a prepared statement Friday.
The State Geological Survey issued its annual energy report February 13, looking back at 2014 production of Wyoming’s big four energy sectors: coal, oil, natural gas and uranium.
The big story in 2014 was oil. Wyoming produced an estimated 75 million barrels — a 20 percent increase over 2013 production, and a whopping 50 percent increase over the state’s low production mark of about 50 million barrels.
“The 2013 production upswing continued through October 2014 when oil prices began to fall,” Drean said. “The full impact has yet to play out, as there is often a lag.”
Coal-bed methane gas — once Wyoming’s brightest-burning play — continues to fizzle in the Powder River Basin, the report said. Overall, natural gas slipped from 2 trillion cubic feet produced in 2013 to 1.9 trillion in 2014.
Wyoming is the nation’s largest producer of uranium, and the industry’s hopes to expand production remains precarious due to pricing. There are 24 uranium mining operations in the planning or permitting phase, Drean wrote, the result of optimism over the peak of $140 per pound in the 2000s. The average spot price for uranium in 2014 was $33.41.
“If worldwide demand continues, prices should increase along with Wyoming’s supply of yellowcake,” Drean said.
Wyoming produced about 396 million tons of coal in 2014 — a 2.3 percent increase over 2013, according to preliminary numbers by the Mining Safety and Health Administration. The increase came despite headwinds: rail congestion and the power industry’s continued shift toward natural gas.
(Click here for more energy resource information and data from the Wyoming State Geological Survey.)