By Sarah Pridgeon
Wyoming continues to provide the nation with a high proportion of its energy, according to the Wyoming State Geological Survey’s annual report to the Legislature. Wyoming oil is on an upward trend, uranium production has doubled over the last year and natural gas, though declining, may increase as new developments come online.
“If Wyoming stopped producing coal, natural gas and uranium, significant portions of the U.S. would go dark in a couple of months,” says Tom Drean, WSGS Director.
“From a geologic standpoint, the state is rich in the key energy resources that the nation relies on to support manufacturing, heat homes and provide electricity.”
In total, Wyoming’s energy resources produce 10 quadrillion Btus of energy each year. One Btu, or British thermal unit, is equivalent to the heat created by burning a matchstick, while a gallon of gas for a vehicle contains around 125,000 Btus.
Wyoming remains the top coal-producing state in the nation, with around 401 million tons produced in 2012, representing 39 percent of the nation’s total production. In 2012, Wyoming’s 11 coal companies produced as much as the next top six coal-mining states combined and, in May 2013, the state produced its 10 billionth ton of coal over its 150-year history of mining.
The Powder River Basin is one of the greatest supplies of coal in the world and provides the majority of all coal sales to U.S. markets, but the state’s production fell by 3.3 percent last year to 388 million tons.
This, according to the report, is largely because the drop in natural gas prices and more stringent limits on carbon dioxide power plant emissions have led to many utilities switching over to natural gas-fired power plants, while there has also been a decrease in nationwide demand for electricity.
“The future of Wyoming’s coal seems certain, but the question is just how it will be used,” says Chris Carroll, coal geologist.
“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.”
Meanwhile, more than 63 million barrels of oil were produced in Wyoming in 2013, up almost 10 percent from the year before. According to the report, oil production increased particularly in Converse, Laramie and Campbell counties, primarily because of new drilling technology and the development of unconventional plays.
Natural gas remains in a steady decline, according to the report. A total of 2.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were produced in Wyoming in 2012, the fifth highest production rate in the nation, but this figure dropped by around eight percent in 2013.
Currently, however, 17 new oil and gas projects on federal lands are in the permitting or early development phase, which WSGS believes could offset the declining gas production.
A number of new uranium projects will also soon come out of the federal review process – including Crook County’s own Strata Energy mine. While the state only had two active mines in 2011, this number doubled in 2013 and final production numbers for last year are expected to exceed 2.5 million pounds – around 54 percent of the total produced in the United States as a whole.
“Nuclear power is becoming more attractive as an energy source because it is clean and, over the long run, may be more reliable than other fossil fuel resources,” says Robert Gregory, uranium geologist, noting that the U.S. currently needs to import uranium but this state has the largest reserves in the nation, concentrated in its basins by water carrying it from volcanic and granitic source rocks.
“With new operations in Wyoming, the state could help fill this gap.”
The annual energy report covers a wide range of topics about Wyoming’s energy resources, from the geologic formations where the fossil fuels were discovered to advances in drilling and mining. Reports are delivered yearly to the Wyoming Legislature.
By Sarah Pridgeon