WyoFile Energy Report

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.

Dustin Bleizeffer
Dustin Bleizeffer

“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.

This view is from the bottom of a pit at a surface coal mine in the Powder River Basin. (Courtesy of the Wyoming Mining Association — click to enlarge)
This view is from the bottom of a pit at a surface coal mine in the Powder River Basin. (Courtesy of the Wyoming Mining Association — click to enlarge)

“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.

A barrel full of "yellowcake" uranium produced in Wyoming. (Courtesy of Wyoming Mining Association — click to enlarge)
A barrel full of “yellowcake” uranium produced in Wyoming. (Courtesy of Wyoming Mining Association — click to enlarge)

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.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts a 3.9 percent increase in coal production in 2014. (click to enlarge)
The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts a 3.9 percent increase in coal production in 2014. (click to enlarge)

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 dustin@wyofile.com. Follow Dustin on Twitter at @DBleizeffer

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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 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. Which part of spewing the by-product of this poison into the air is not getting through to the “law makers”?
    Money will not buy their grandchildren clean air or water, PERIOD!! We are not going to get off this crap overnight , but still, to pawn it off on another country to continue it’s destructive use is ludicrous, there are other valuables in this state, rare minerals for instance, promote the extraction of those?
    Not for Governor “ALEC” Mead, Money, Power and NO health-care for the poor is for him, the model to live by, disgusting!!

  2. There is little reason for Wyoming & ND to export natural gas & then import products (like ammonia, polyethylene and ethanol ) that can be made from natural gas & natural gas liquids. Many of these end products do not need water borne transport. Of course, there are many infrastructure hurdles to cross. In the same vein, why would the govt close coal-fired generating plants (in the name of global warming), then send it to China & allow the Chinese to burn it? Seems sometimes like we have too much government—

  3. Good points Dustin, but I have to disagree with you on certain aspects of your comments. We have politicians making statements that they will bankrupt the coal industry – without regard to the economic and social impacts – and taking actions to do that. The changes the EPA is imposing on current coal fired plants is well beyond economic feasibility and ultimately will force them to shut down.

    There is not an energy source that is technologically feasible that does not have some potential negative impacts. There is no true “green” energy source. Certainly, some are better than others. Don’t get me wrong, I think we should be pursuing solar, wind and other sources of energy. I think the shift towards natural gas is a good move, but you have a segment of society absolutely aligned against fracing – even though they understand little about it.

    Which comes to my point, solar, wind and any other “green” energy sources will not replace coal or natural gas as a primary energy source in this country without some dramatic technological breakthrough. The technology will come to fruition someday, but not in the next 20-30 years – my personal opinion. But, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot have a war on coal and a war on natural gas/fracing.

    If we really wanted to reduce our carbon emissions, we would find ways to reduce our energy consumption along with finding cleaner sources. We would recycle, reduce our energy use as much as possible, individually look for ways to conserve not use. I laugh when I see all these people along the Front Range of Colorado rallying against fracing. The Feds/EPA are strangling the coal industry and the local governments down south strangling energy development – where do they think all the energy comes from powering their homes, retail developments, technology jobs? Sure, there is some lip service to energy conservation, but we should all be walking the talk, not just forcing somebody else to pay higher utility rates.

    Better energy sources, uses will come. Whether I agree with you or not Dustin, keep up the good work. I enjoy your articles, insight into the energy industry and impact on the State of Wyoming. I appreciate the view from all of the angles, not just one side of the fence or the other.

  4. lousewort, Germany is burning more coal than it has in recent years. But it’s likely a short-term response to preparations to seriously cut back on their nuclear baseload. When I joined the American Council on Germany energy tour in Berlin in 2010, I was amazed at how determined the German citizens were on dialing down nuclear energy. They do not like nuclear energy (or more accurately; do not trust it can be safely regulated). Their best, and most efficiently mined, coal was realized many decades ago. I visited a mine in Bochum that has been transformed into a museum. Cloudy Germany is light-years ahead of the world in solar, believe it or not. But I asked, “How can you crank down nuclear when you don’t have much coal-based power to fall back on?” Surprisingly, they sounded optimistic about natural gas — THE fuel that Russia successfully uses as political influence in the region. Germany still has plenty of coal, but the sweet and cheaply-mined crop is gone. Since fossil fuels are a finite resource, I’m betting their expansion of coal is only a temporary part of a larger expansion of all energy resources.
    — Dustin Bleizeffer, editor-in-chief

  5. “War on Coal.” Sounds a lot like “Vlad the Impaler” Putin talking about the Ukraine’s war on Russians, rather than the Russians’ war on the Ukraine.

    Having learned a little something about leadership from my military days, rather than saying there are too many extremists to develop consensus or leadership on energy, I’d say there are too many moral cowards in leadership positions to move us away from the abyss toward a future we can survive. We simply cannot survive where our current power and profit crazed “leadership” is taking us. I hope these guys enjoy the ride, because when the abyss suddenly appears, they’re going down hard with the rest of us.


  6. Good point, RBD: “In today’s political climate – their are too many extremists … to develop any consensus or leadership.”

    It’s interesting that people continually rollout our current reliance on coal (fueling some 40% of the nation’s electrical baseload) as justification for continuing the same level of reliance on coal far into the future. What is not mentioned enough is that just a few short years ago, coal supplied nearly 50% of the nation’s electricity, and ratcheting that down to 40% or below was thought to play out over a 20 year period. We should be concerned about shifting our baseload too far onto natural gas, given it’s wild price volatility.

    As for a war on coal; it would be more accurate to say there are only half-measures being made to place sanctions — not waging a war — on GHG-heavy fuels. Domestic fossil resources will remain a huge asset for this nation, but we can no longer allow those industries to “externalize” the cost of GHG emissions. A price on carbon is key to expanding our portfolio of domestic energy resources; efficiency and slowing the accelerated rate of climate change is actually good business, in the long the run.
    — Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile editor-in-chief

  7. Without the Obama administration’s war on coal, coal would still be a viable and cost effective energy source. But with the Obama administration stating they plan to bankrupt coal, you have a dramatic shift to Natural Gas. The country has no choice with coal under attack. Nobody wants to touch the stuff at this point – users or researchers.

    Assuming the anti-fracing segment of society does not kill natural gas too, then demand for gas will only increase as coal declines. 40%+ of the electricity production in this country is currently coal based – the most viable and cost effective replacement is natural gas. It’s simple economics.

    I am more environmentally conscious than most, but the extreme push to eliminate coal as a viable energy source while attacking natural gas production methods will significantly increase the cost of electricity for all involved. Wind has issues the environmental movement wants to ignore, as well as solar. Neither are viable replacements for coal, natural gas, oil or nuclear with present technology. This country does not need a war on energy, but leadership to develop a long-term energy plan to sustain our country’s economy, environment, and future well being. In today’s political climate – their are too many extremists on to develop any consensus or leadership.

  8. I’m sorry , but this report by the supposed politically neutral WSGS still takes the Company Line. It looks at the energy reserve landscape thru the optics of the hydrocarbon industry. No one whose paycheck says ” Wyoming State Government” across the top would dare report a hydrocarbon energy negative and expect to keep his job for long in the Mead administration.

    It should be noted that when it comes to energy , it isn’t Mother Nature who bats last …She is the Umpire. Nope. The home team is the Market. The market for coal and natural gas are not really favorable to Wyoming going forward. Wyoming coal will soon be in oversupply for the targeted domestic demand, and Asia sales will remain a pipe dream. China is actually cutting back on coal burning of late as they become very acutely aware of the downside of burning carbon every time one of those apocalyptic smog alerts is issued in an industrial Chinese city. Seems like every week now, somewhere in China , and the smoking gun is coal. as for natural gas, you can thank the Frackers for enabling the technology to extract natural gas from just about anywhere on the planet you can pad a drill rig. Natural gas is now so plentiful from so many sources that Wyoming is shoved back to the far limits of the market. Wyoming gas pipelines are already saturated for the most part, and no new major pipelines are in the mill that I am aware of. The markets any new pipeline would serve already have natural gas sources nearby . The price of natural gas has very little to do with actual supply ( present Polar Vortex situation being the exception , but this year’s extremely cold winter has driven up the price of EVERYTHING it seems ). The base market for Wyoming gas does not look to be improving any time soon. The demand for gas will increase remarkably in coming years, but price will not, and Wyoming’s gas is simply too far from the burners to be favorited by the market. The same companies that produce the gas in Wyoming also produce and sell it back East . Oh by the way , the talk about an export market for Liquified Natural Gas ( LNG ) is hyperbole.

    Crude oil has peaked in Wyoming. We keep selling it only because we have a long established infrastructure for moving it, plus a few new truck terminals, etc. It remains attractive only because speculators have artificially and duplicitously driven up the price for it in the trading pits ( just doing Big Oil’s bidding, literally ). Yet here in Park County WY the fields sell their oil for 45-60 % of the stated market price. That’s all they can get for it. Crude oil and the voodoo economics behind it can be neither predicted nor trusted. If you have learned nothing else, know that…

    Don’t even get me going on the speculative nature of those vast ugly toxic oil shale reserves in the lower Green River Basin, the kissing cousins to the controversial Alberta Tar Sands of Canada and all that goes with .

    I’m sorry to have to say it, but Wyoming is not Wonderland, if it requires wearing a hard hat and coveralls to take the ride.

    ( I note the lack of reference to wind , solar , hydropower in this digest , FWIW. Maybe not in the scope of the report, but still…)