The tectonic forces that created Wyoming’s complex Rocky Mountain terrain preserved rich fossil beds from multiple geologic eras, making the state a major producer of coal, natural gas, and crude oil. Wyoming has the smallest population of any state, and only Alaska has fewer residents per square mile. But Wyoming supplies more energy to the rest of the nation and has more producing federal oil and natural gas leases than any other state.
Wyoming supplies more energy to other states than any other state in the nation.
Wyoming sits astride the Continental Divide. The state’s lowest point is more than half a mile above sea level, and its mountain peaks exceed 2 miles above sea level. Its mountains channel weather—and often fierce winds—across wide plains. The altitude gives Wyoming a cooler climate overall, but temperatures can be extreme. The state’s record high is 114℉ in the Big Horn Basin, and the record low is 66℉ below zero in Yellowstone National Park. National parks like Yellowstone and national monuments like Devil’s Tower, as well as the Teton, Wind River, and Big Horn mountain ranges, help make tourism the state’s second largest industry.
The biggest industry in Wyoming is energy-related mining and minerals extraction. Coal, crude oil, natural gas, or some combination of those fuels is produced in 22 of Wyoming’s 23 counties, and mineral royalties and severance and related taxes typically provide a substantial portion of state revenues. Although only 6% of the energy produced in Wyoming is consumed there, Wyoming is among the highest per-capita energy consumers of any state and has one of the most energy-intensive state economies. The industrial sector uses more than half of all energy consumed in the state, and the transportation sector consumes more than one-fifth.
Winds are funneled through mountain passes and across the prairie, creating among the best wind resources in the nation.
Wyoming has among the best wind resources in the nation, especially in its southeast. Sustained winds are funneled through mountain passes and out across the high prairie, giving Wyoming wind farms high capacity factors. Wind-powered generating capacity has increased rapidly during the last 10 years. Several large-scale projects are in development, including a 3,000-megawatt project at Chokecherry-Sierra Madre, which may become the largest wind project in the nation. Wyoming officials are actively seeking customers for the state’s wind power in California and Colorado. Both states have ambitious renewable energy requirements. The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority is encouraging two large transmission projects aimed at transporting Wyoming’s wind-generated electricity to the West Coast.
Most of Wyoming’s hydroelectric dams are smaller, older, and owned by the federal government. Although the state has good solar resources, no utility-scale solar generation has been installed, in part because of Wyoming’s relatively low electricity rates. A small amount of distributed (customer-sited, small-scale) solar photovoltaic capacity has been installed around the state. The state does not have a renewable portfolio standard or other requirement for renewable energy,but it does provide net metering for residential, commercial, and industrial customers with renewable energy systems smaller than 25 kilowatts, including solar photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, biomass plants, and hydroelectric generators.
Coal-fired power plants dominate Wyoming electricity generation, producing about 8 of every 9 kilowatt hours of net generation. Wind energy’s share has increased rapidly in the last 10 years and contributed nearly 8% of net electricity generation in 2015. Small hydroelectric facilities, natural gas, and petroleum contribute minor amounts of electricity. Most power from natural gas is generated and consumed at industrial facilities, but some new natural gas-fired capacity is being built by electric utilities to replace aging coal units.
Because of the state’s small population, total electricity demand is low, and Wyoming sends two-thirds of the electricity it generates to nearby states. High-voltage transmission lines carrying electricity from Wyoming often operate at maximum capacity, and the state government is encouraging transmission expansion. Five major interstate projects are under way to transmit more power out of Wyoming to western population centers. Within Wyoming, the industrial sector is the largest electricity consumer, accounting for more than half of the electricity used in the state. Wyoming has among the lowest average electricity rates in the nation.
Wyoming does not have any nuclear power plants, but it is home to nearly one-third of estimated U.S. uranium reserves. Expectations for rising uranium ore prices have led to new mining activity in the state. The largest uranium mining operations in the United States are located in Wyoming, and the state is home to four-fifths of the nation’s operating capacity for producing the uranium ore that fuels nuclear power plants.
Wyoming is one of the top 10 natural gas-producing states in the nation. Two-thirds of its natural gas is produced on land leased from the federal government.Production takes place throughout the state, but most of Wyoming’s natural gas has come from fields in the Greater Green River Basin, in the state’s southwest.
Recovery of coalbed methane from coal seams in the Powder River Basin grew rapidly in the late 1990s but has declined in this decade. Recent lower natural gas prices made some coalbed methane wells uneconomical. Coalbed methane accounts for about one-seventh of state natural gas production. Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming are the leading coalbed methane producers in the United States.
Several interstate natural gas pipelines converge at Opal, Wyoming, creating a major natural gas trading hub.
Wyoming typically consumes less than one-tenth of the natural gas it produces, and half of that consumption is used in drilling, processing, and pipeline operations. Most natural gas produced in the state is shipped out through interstate pipelines crossing into Utah and Nebraska, delivering natural gas to both the Midwest and the West Coast. Several interstate pipelines converge at Opal, Wyoming, creating a major interstate natural gas trading hub. Wyoming’s natural gas storage capability has recently increased with the addition of a new underground storage facility connected to the Opal hub. The first phase of the facility opened in 2012. At full capacity, the facility increased the state’s underground storage capacity by one-third.
Wyoming has 16 of the nation’s largest natural gas fields, including the Pinedale and Jonah fields that rank among the top 10. Natural gas exploration has been expanding across the state, including into the Powder River Basin. Intensive drilling activity in the Green River Basin was identified by state officials as putting that region out of compliance with federal air quality standards, a first for Wyoming. The state has developed strategies to manage the issue, including new requirements for emissions controls in drilling. Those strategies, plus a slowdown in drilling because of depressed natural gas prices, have resulted in recent air quality improvements.
Natural gas is Wyoming’s most widely used home heating fuel, warming three in five households. However, the industrial sector is the largest natural gas consumer, using about two-thirds of all natural gas delivered to consumers in the state.
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