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Wyoming   Wyoming Profile

State Profile and Energy Estimates

Profile AnalysisPrint State Energy Profile
(overview, data, & analysis)

Last Updated: December 15, 2016

Overview

The tectonic forces that created Wyoming's complex Rocky Mountain terrain preserved rich fossil beds from multiple geologic eras,1 making the state a major producer of coal, natural gas, and crude oil.2 Wyoming has the smallest population of any state, and only Alaska has fewer residents per square mile.3,4 But Wyoming supplies more energy to the rest of the nation5 and has more producing federal oil and natural gas leases than any other state.6

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.7 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.8

The biggest industry in Wyoming is energy-related mining and minerals extraction.9 Coal, crude oil, natural gas, or some combination of those fuels is produced in 22 of Wyoming's 23 counties,10 and mineral royalties and severance and related taxes typically provide a substantial portion of state revenues.11,12 Although only 6% of the energy produced in Wyoming is consumed there,13 Wyoming is among the highest per-capita energy consumers of any state14 and has one of the most energy-intensive state economies.15 The industrial sector uses more than half of all energy consumed in the state, and the transportation sector consumes more than one-fifth.16

Petroleum

Wyoming typically accounts for between 2% and 3% of U.S. crude oil production.17 The state is a crossroads for pipelines bringing Canadian and Rocky Mountain crude oil to refineries in the Rocky Mountain states and the Midwest and for pipelines taking refined products to markets in those regions.18 Wyoming has six operable crude oil refineries that provide more than one-fourth of the refining capacity in the Petroleum Administration for Defense District (PADD) 4, which also includes Colorado, Idaho, Montana, and Utah.19 Two refineries are sited near a crude oil pipeline hub in Casper, Wyoming, and the other four are closer to the Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and South Dakota borders.20 Wyoming's refineries produce motor gasoline, diesel fuel, aviation fuel, and other products, and they have added capability to process Canadian heavy sour crude oils.21,22,23,24,25

Wyoming is among the top five consuming states per capita for petroleum,26,27 but with the state's small population, total petroleum consumption is modest.28 The state's refineries deliver much of their output to neighboring states. Of the petroleum products consumed in Wyoming, three-fifths are used in the transportation sector, and most of the rest are used by the industrial sector.29 Wyoming is one of the few states that allow statewide use of conventional motor gasoline.30,31

The state has less than 3% of proved U.S. crude oil reserves,32 but, in recent years, producers using advanced drilling technologies have increased crude oil production in two regions of eastern Wyoming: the Niobrara Shale north of the Colorado border and the coal-rich Powder River Basin south of the Montana border. However, with low crude oil prices, production activity has fallen somewhat in 2016.33,34,35,36,37 Southwestern Wyoming overlies part of the Green River oil shale, a formation rich in kerogen, an organic material found in sedimentary rock, which can be heated to extract crude oil. Green River, by some estimates, could be the world's largest crude oil resource if technology were developed to extract the oil economically.38,39

Natural gas

Wyoming is one of the top 10 natural gas-producing states in the nation.40 Two-thirds of its natural gas is produced on land leased from the federal government.41 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.42,43

Recovery of coalbed methane from coal seams in the Powder River Basin grew rapidly in the late 1990s but has declined in this decade.44 Recent lower natural gas prices made some coalbed methane wells uneconomical.45,46 Coalbed methane accounts for about one-seventh of state natural gas production.47 Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming are the leading coalbed methane producers in the United States.48

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.49,50 Most natural gas produced in the state is shipped out through interstate pipelines51 crossing into Utah and Nebraska, delivering natural gas to both the Midwest and the West Coast.52 Several interstate pipelines converge at Opal, Wyoming, creating a major interstate natural gas trading hub.53,54 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.55,56,57

Wyoming has 16 of the nation's largest natural gas fields, including the Pinedale and Jonah fields that rank among the top 10.58 Natural gas exploration has been expanding across the state, including into the Powder River Basin.59,60 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.61,62 The state has developed strategies to manage the issue, including new requirements for emissions controls in drilling.63,64 Those strategies, plus a slowdown in drilling because of depressed natural gas prices, have resulted in recent air quality improvements.65

Natural gas is Wyoming's most widely used home heating fuel, warming three in five households.66 However, the industrial sector is the largest natural gas consumer, using about two-thirds of all natural gas delivered to consumers in the state.67

Coal

Eight of the 10 largest U.S. coal mines are located in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.

Wyoming leads the nation in coal production, accounting for two-fifths of all coal mined in the United States.68,69 Eight of the 10 largest U.S. coal mines are in Wyoming's Powder River Basin.70 Seams of subbituminous coal, some more than 100 feet thick, lie at shallow depths, allowing large-scale mechanized surface mining.71,72,73 Coal is loaded onto unit trains a half mile or more long and shipped to electricity generating plants around the nation.74 In recent years, Wyoming coal has been used at power plants in more than 30 states. In 2015, the state's mines supplied 10 states with more than nine-tenths of the domestic coal they consumed.75,76

The primary transportation route for coal from the rugged and sparsely populated Powder River Basin region is the PRB Joint Line, co-owned by two major railroads.77,78 As area coal mining has grown, the railroads have gradually added parallel tracks to decrease congestion and minimize shipping delays, particularly after three train derailments in 2005 severely damaged the PRB Joint Line and halted coal shipments.79,80

Wyoming has more than one-third of recoverable U.S. coal reserves at producing mines.81 In the short term, coal use is expected to decline nationwide as older coal-fired electricity generating units are retired. In the longer term, demand is expected to stabilize for Wyoming's low-sulfur coal, which can help some generating units comply with air quality standards.82,83 Wyoming also has the world's largest known deposit of trona,84 a mineral used in dry sorbent injection technology to meet federal emission standards, which helps generators to continue to use coal.85,86 Although little Wyoming coal has been exported overseas,87 coal producers and railroads serving the Powder River Basin are considering more exports from Pacific ports to Asia.88,89,90,91

Electricity

Coal-fired power plants dominate Wyoming electricity generation, producing about 8 of every 9 kilowatthours 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.92,93 Most power from natural gas is generated and consumed at industrial facilities,94 but some new natural gas-fired capacity is being built by electric utilities to replace aging coal units.95,96

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.97,98 High-voltage transmission lines carrying electricity from Wyoming often operate at maximum capacity,99 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.100 Within Wyoming, the industrial sector is the largest electricity consumer, accounting for more than half of the electricity used in the state.101 Wyoming has among the lowest average electricity rates in the nation.102

Wyoming does not have any nuclear power plants, but it is home to nearly one-third of estimated U.S. uranium reserves.103 Expectations for rising uranium ore prices have led to new mining activity in the state.104,105 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.106

Renewable energy

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.107 Sustained winds are funneled through mountain passes and out across the high prairie, giving Wyoming wind farms high capacity factors.108,109 Wind-powered generating capacity has increased rapidly during the last 10 years.110,111 Several large-scale projects are in development,112,113 including a 3,000-megawatt project at Chokecherry-Sierra Madre, which may become the largest wind project in the nation.114,115 Wyoming officials are actively seeking customers for the state's wind power in California and Colorado. Both states have ambitious renewable energy requirements.116,117,118 The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority is encouraging two large transmission projects aimed at transporting Wyoming's wind-generated electricity to the West Coast.119

Most of Wyoming's hydroelectric dams are smaller, older, and owned by the federal government.120,121 Although the state has good solar resources,122 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.123,124 The state does not have a renewable portfolio standard or other requirement for renewable energy,125 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.126,127

Energy on tribal lands

Wyoming's Wind River Reservation, one of the nation's largest reservations at more than 3,500 square miles, is home to both the Arapahoe and the Shoshone tribes.128,129 It is Wyoming's only reservation, and it occupies most of the northern and central parts of the Wind River Basin in west-central Wyoming.130 Crude oil and natural gas have been produced on the Wind River Reservation for decades.131

The state's first oil well was drilled in the Wind River Basin in 1884, south of the reservation boundary.132 About a half century later, several oil seeps were discovered within the reservation, and crude oil and natural gas production on tribal lands followed.133 Between 1884 and the mid-1990s, more than 550 million barrels of crude oil and almost 3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas were produced from reservoirs in the Wind River Basin.134 In 2012, a settlement was reached between the tribes and the federal government regarding the payment and management of royalties owed on crude oil and natural gas production from reservation land. The settlement included a $157 million payment to the tribes.135,136

The Wind River Reservation has significant wind energy resources along the mountain ridges that border the reservation.137,138 Several areas of the reservation have been evaluated for wind projects that could give the two tribes a sustainable source of clean energy.139 The reservation has promising solar resources as well.140

Endnotes

1 McClendon, Russell, "Where Does Coal Come From?" Mother Nature Network (August 4, 2009).
2 U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), State Energy Data System, Table P4, Energy Production Estimates in Physical Units, Ranked by State, 2014.
3 U.S. Census Bureau, Resident Population Data, Population Density, 1910-2010.
4 U.S. Census Bureau, Population Estimates, StateTotals: Vintage 2014, Tables, Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014 (NST-EST2014-01).
5 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table P3, Energy Production and Consumption Estimates in Trillion Btu, 2014.
6 U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, Number of Producing Leases on Federal Lands, updated October 29, 2015.
7 Gray, Steve, "Wicked Wind, Raging Blizzards and Bitter Cold—and That's Just Summer in Wyoming," Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network, State Climate Series, accessed October 31, 2016.
8 Forbes, Best States for Business, Wyoming (October 2015).
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10 Petroleum Association of Wyoming, Wyoming Oil & Gas, Facts & Figures, 2015 Edition, Production.
11 Jeffries, Brian, Oil, Natural Gas, Pipelines and Wyoming State Revenues, Wyoming Pipeline Authority (2011), slide 4.
12 State of Wyoming, Department of Revenue, 2015 Annual Report, Mineral Tax Division, p. 38-52.
13 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Production, Table P3, Energy Production and Consumption Estimates in Trillion Btu, 2014.
14 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C13, Energy Consumption Estimates per Capita by End-Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2014.
15 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C12, Total Energy Consumption Estimates, Real Gross Domestic Product (GDP), Energy Consumption Estimates per Real Dollar of GDP, Ranked by State, 2014.
16 U.S. EIA, State Energy Data System, Table C10, Energy Consumption Estimates by End Use Sector, Ranked by State, 2014.
17 U.S. EIA, Crude Oil Production, Annual-Thousand Barrels, 2010-15.
18 Jeffries, Brian, Oil, Natural Gas, Pipelines and Wyoming State Revenues, Wyoming Pipeline Authority (2011), slide 22.
19 U.S. EIA, Refinery Capacity 2016, Table 1, Number and Capacity of Operable Petroleum Refineries by PAD District and State as of January 1, 2016.
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39 U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, BLM Issues Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Oil Shale and Tar Sands (February 3, 2012).
40 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Gross Withdrawals, Annual-Million Cubic Feet, 2010-15, and Marketed Production, Annual-Million Cubic Feet, 2010-15.
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48 U.S. EIA, Coalbed Methane Production, 2009-14.
49 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Consumption By End-Use, Wyoming, 2010-15.
50 U.S. EIA, Natural Gas Gross Withdrawals and Production, Wyoming, 2009-14.
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79 U.S. Department of Energy, Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability, Deliveries of Coal from the Powder River Basin: Events and Trends, 2005-2007 (October 2007), Executive Summary.
80 "UP, BNSF Announce Southern Powder River Basin Joint Line $100 Million Capacity Expansion Plan," Union Pacific Railroad, Press Release (May 8, 2006).
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85 Fischer, Diane, and Preston Tempero, "Early Lessons Learned from Implementation of Dry Sorbent Injection Systems," Black & Veatch (2012), p. 2.
86 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Regulatory Impact Analysis for the Final Mercury and Air Toxics Standards," EPA-452/R-11-011 (December 2011), p. 2-9.
87 U.S. EIA, Annual Coal Distribution Report, Domestic and foreign distribution of U.S. coal by State, of origin (2014, 2013, 2012, 2011).
88 Godby, Robert, et al., The Impact of Coal on Wyoming, Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, University of Wyoming (February 2015), p. 5-6.
89 Western Organization of Resource Councils, Heavy Traffic Ahead (July 2012), p. 4.
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109 University of Wyoming, "UW Study Determines Wyoming Wind Could Benefit Colorado Economically" (April 3, 2013).
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