Four more years: What a second Obama administration could mean for energy in Wyoming

Nov 16, 2012

Many fossil fuel developers campaigned against President Obama this election season, fearing the effect of regulations and other restrictions on their industry, while environmental activists called for four more years. Now that Mr. Obama has won a second term, Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez spoke with some stakeholders about what that could mean for the energy industry in Wyoming.

REBECCA MARTINEZ: If you ask Bruce Hinchey, he’ll tell you the last four years have been an assault on oil and gas. Hinchey’s president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. He resents that some wind power projects, including the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre wind farm to be built near Rawlins, have had Environmental Impact Statements approved relatively quickly.

BRUCE HINCHEY: We’re double the amount of time for and EIS to be finished for a oil and gas project versus a wind power project.

MARTINEZ: He also cites a decline in the acreage the Bureau of Land Management has opened to oil and gas leasing, and a slowdown in permits to drill. He expects the industry will have to work hard to avoid losing further leasing opportunities.

HINCHEY: Something I have never seen before, but I’m sure that we’ll continue to work on it, and I don’t expect it to let up at all at least in the next four years.

MARTINEZ: But Richard Garrett of the Wyoming Outdoor Council is pleased with these changes.

RICHARD GARRETT: I take some encouragement from the election. I think that to some extent it ratifies many of the policies that the president has been pursuing that address what we think is the defining issue of this generation, and that is climate change.

MARTINEZ: Garrett is eager to see whether the president will push for a carbon tax… or a production tax cut for renewable resources to encourage growth in that area.

Garrett says he believes the President is sincere in his plan to support a diverse national energy portfolio, but he hopes Mr. Obama will stand behind the Environmental Protection Agency’s increased restrictions for new coal-fired power plants.

GARRETT: That will be a strong signal that he is trying to get coal to clean up its act. I think coal definitely has a role to play in this nation’s energy portfolio, but there have to be ways that we can do it cleaner and smarter and better.

MARTINEZ: Rob Hurless – Deputy Director of The University of Wyoming School of Energy and energy advisor to Governor Matt Mead – obviously does not support imposing a carbon tax on the energy industry because the way it’s written and implemented could make a big difference for business… But he hopes the Obama administration will make a decision about whether to pursue one soon.

ROB HURLESS: If there is any good new in it, it may decrease the uncertainty, because at least we’ll have some set of rules, okay… And I believe strongly in the ability of folks in the market place to perform once they know the rules.

MARTINEZ: Still, Hurless says we might be giving the president too much credit for the future of resource development in Wyoming.

HURLESS: As much as politicians like to claim that they can do things, it’s really the markets that change things over time. And politics sometimes can trump economics in the short term, but over the long term, I think, basic economics will rule.

MARTINEZ: Hurless says the EPA’s regulatory pressure on coal-fire power plans has caused uncertainty in the industry, stalling plans for some companies. He says it’s partially responsible for the slow-down in Wyoming’s coal… but, he says, low natural gas prices are probably much more culpable for the hit to Wyoming coal. Utilities have been burning 20-percent more of the cheap natural gas for electricity than usual… but that could change if demand for natural gas as a heating fuel spikes. He’s just waiting on the winter to see what the weather decides for the market.

For Wyoming Public Radio, I’m Rebecca Martinez.