Wyoming is one of the leading energy states in the country. It is the top overall energy exporter in the U.S., the third leading producer of natural gas, and number eight in oil production. In fact, if Wyoming were a country, it would rank tenth in the world in overall energy production.
It makes sense then that Wyoming would want to develop an energy strategy to ensure that these resources are developed wisely. A state that is also home to the nation’s first national park (Yellowstone) and a thriving outdoor recreation and tourism economy would not want one of its leading economic drivers to negatively impact another, or to harm the health of its citizens.
There is strong potential in the strategy released last week by Governor Matt Mead and his staff. The 47 policy prescriptions in the “Leading the Charge” document are broad and varied, but the ones pertaining to oil and gas regulation appear promising. These include:
- Establishing a strong, scientifically-valid groundwater quality baseline testing program that gives landowners important information about potential impacts from oil and gas drilling.
- An air quality management strategy and review of state flaring policies that can take into account the pollution problems in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin and seek to make improvements there and across the state.
- Efforts to carefully examine the potential safe reuse of produced water from energy production.
- Subjecting the state’s oil and gas regulations to a complete review by a broad group of experts through the nationally respected STRONGER process.
- A review of state bonding requirements that can ensure well owners have the financial wherewithal to adequately plug wells and reclaim areas where drilling has occurred so the state is not left holding the bag for so-called orphan wells.
Of course, the devil will be in the details which is why EDF and our partners will remain engaged with regulators and industry representatives in Wyoming as these polices are fleshed out and implemented.
First up will be the baseline groundwater quality testing program, which the Governor’s staff has indicated will be released in draft form in early June. Wyoming has a chance here to leapfrog its neighbor, and rival to the south, and establish a program that improves upon Colorado’s mistakes.
A solid, scientifically-valid testing program will provide a first line of defense in detecting if groundwater contamination has occurred, as a result of well development activities either above or below the surface. Such an effort will help better protect public health. and quickly remediate any problems that may arise.
Not all of these policies will be easy or quick. But by bringing resources and experience to bear, we can help ensure that they are done right.