Mead Touts Pro-Energy Stance

The way Gov. Matt Mead sees it, Wyoming can continue to grow its industrial energy development and still maintain its pristine air, water and abundant wildlife and wide open spaces. Energy development is so essential to Wyoming, Mead said, that it’s key to “the pursuit of happiness” here and the best way to keep young people from leaving the state.

“This is the place to be developing energy, and we have energy,” said Mead.

Mead spoke this morning at an energy conference in Wheatland organized by the Southeast Wyoming Resource Conservation and Development Council. And his can-do speech about Wyoming energy was a crowd-pleaser here where some of Wyoming’s poorest counties hope to become the financial recipients of America’s next big shale oil play known as the “Niobrara.”

Chesapeake Energy, Noble Energy, Anadarko Petroleum and other major oil and gas players have launched a massive exploration play spanning five counties, hoping to swab millions of barrels of oil using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracture technologies.

Although the industry has rankled some landowners, much of the mineral estate here is private, and there’s a general drill-baby-drill sense in the rural agriculture and small-town business communities.

“There’s this disease some people have; it’s called NIMBY — not in my backyard,” said Platte County commissioner Terry Stevenson. “Our attitude is PLIMBY — please locate it in our backyard.”

According to the tone of Mead’s speech, his administration intends to help industry oblige.

“I get asked by the press or others; Governor, do you want to see energy development or do you want to see conservation?” Mead said. “I reject that question.”

The two are not mutually exclusive, he said, adding that some of the best conservation that has occurred in Wyoming has been through collaborative efforts with energy companies. Mead suggested that it’s revenue from energy that helps Wyoming maintain its environment and to fund schools and all the social services that Wyomingites enjoy.

And beyond Wyoming, America’s flagging economy needs affordable energy, he said. It’s Wyoming’s obligation to continue to provide it in all forms: coal, oil, natural gas, uranium, wind, geothermal — you name it.

“Now more than ever, when our country is struggling, we want to do our very best to develop our energy in a cost-effective manner,” said Mead. “If we need energy, and we have energy, then wouldn’t we also want to produce energy in a way that is effective and timely?”

Mead’s speech may not have gone over so well in Pinedale where state regulators are under fire over air pollution from natural gas development in the Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields.

This winter ozone in the Upper Green River Basin spiked beyond Los Angeles’ worst day, triggering several alerts warning people to stay inside. There are other tangible impacts. A mule deer population in the Upper Green River Basin has declined 60 percent since major drilling operations began.

Mead isn’t the first and certainly isn’t the only person to reject the either-or notion regarding energy development and conservation. If any community has the can-do attitude to embrace both mining and environmental conservation, it’s Wyoming. And that includes those who dare to ask for more environmental controls.

In a conference call earlier this week, Steve Belinda of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said hunters and fishermen have gladly welcomed energy development, but they’re being asked to make more and more sacrifices.

“We seem to be paying a lot of attention to our energy resources. But we forget that agencies have a responsibility to protect fish and wildlife, too,” said Belinda. “It really is disheartening seeing regulators spending so much time on energy development.”

Wyoming’s recent track record suggests the state is struggling to maintain its claim of balancing industrial energy development and protecting the environment.

A recent CBS News investigation revealed that, by far, the greatest volume of oil and gas spills in the United States in 2010 occurred in Wyoming — 10.3 million gallons (mostly coal-bed methane water) compared to a distant second Texas at 4.5 million gallons.

High winds trigger air quality alerts due to blowing dust at coal mines in the Powder River Basin, and state regulators struggled to process an influx of uranium mining applications. Still, oil and gas developers are crafting proposals for more than 21,000 new natural gas wells throughout the state.

There’s an expectation that Wyoming can continue to expand its industrial energy extraction industry without sacrificing it’s wildlife or its clean air, clean water, recreation, tourism and small-town way of life. And sometimes those expectations aren’t met.

— Contact Dustin Bleizeffer at 307-577-6069 or dustin@wyofile.com.

Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. We are paying a price for our energy development. I was struck as I drove the state during the campaign at the extent to which we look industrialized. You see the signs of oil and gas development virtually everywhere. Two huge tests will be what we do in the Noble Basin, one of the world’s worst places to develop and also what happens in Dubois, where the Forest Service blithely authorized a well in some of the richest wildlife habitat in the U.S. with a finding of “No Significant Impact.” We pay a lot of lip service, but when there’s a problem like Pavillion or Pinedale, there are endless delays and lack of action. We could do better.