Bill Sniffin: Wyoming’s The Hole In The Donut Compared To Other Rocky Mountain States

Bill Sniffin writes: Wyoming produces 13 times more energy than it consumes. We are the second largest net supplier of energy of the 50 states behind only Texas.

Bill Sniffin

February 25, 20236 min read

Bill Sniffin lots of snow 1 16 23
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Instead of the Cowboy State or Equality State, Wyoming’s true economic nickname is the Energy State.

Thus, Wyoming is not very similar to its Rocky Mountain neighbors,

Common sense would make you think we are similar to Colorado, Montana, Idaho and, to a certain extent, even South Dakota. Not so. The differences are huge. 

Wyoming is, by far, the most reliant on fossil fuels compared to the other states. This means we are prone to boom-bust cycles that just do not affect other places as much as it determines our overall economic health. 

We are the hole in the donut when you compare us with our neighbors about the diversity of our economy. 

A Great Many Natural Assets, Too

Sure, we all have big mountains, fantastic river systems, spectacular national parks and ski areas, but when it comes to overall economic diversity it’s not close. 

In so many ways most of the time we are a one-trick pony, and that trick is energy. 

As much as I love tourism – folks who know me know that I am a champion of the hospitality industry – it pales compared to energy when it comes to overall economic impact on the state. 

Wyoming produces 13 times more energy than it consumes. We are the second largest net supplier of energy of the 50 states behind only Texas. One of the popular nicknames the state has claimed in recent years is that we are the country’s “energy breadbasket.” 

We have been the top coal producing state since 1986 and produce 40% of all the thermal coal in the country.

Wyoming is the eighth largest crude oil producing state and the ninth largest natural gas producing state. 

For years, uranium reserves in Wyoming were among the most tapped in the nation, followed closely by New Mexico. 

As the windiest state in the country, this place is a natural site for new wind farms. The amount of installed wind power capacity nearly doubled from 2020 to 2021 to more than 3,000 megawatts. It is closing in on 20% of the net electricity generation in Wyoming.

For 50 years, I have been hearing the common and consistent refrain that Wyoming needs to “diversify” its economy away from energy. We still trail our surrounding states when it comes to their manufacturing and service economies. 

A little more than a decade ago, I wrote about how much we were the energy breadbasket of the country.

Wyoming truly is the energy breadbasket of the Western Hemisphere.  

And the man bragging the most about this back then was former Gov. Matt Mead, who appeared on the CNBC business show “Squawk Box” early one morning in July 2011.

Largest Energy Exporter

The CNBC business channel interviewer asked the governor about what she had heard, that if, “Wyoming were a country, it would be the largest energy exporting country to the USA in the world.”

The governor answered by referring to “the 10.76 quadrillion BTUs of energy that come from our coal, uranium, natural gas, oil and wind, being used within our state and the other 49 states.

Wow, 10.76 quadrillion? How many zeroes is that, anyway? I think 10,760,000,000,000,000 is sort of how that would look. 

He also mentioned in a very straightforward manner that we have nearly $15 billion in the bank (today it is $25 billion). Our state budget is balanced and our unemployment rate is down. 

Apparently, this cable channel show was going around the country and interviewing governors to find out how the states are doing. It could be imagined that the interviews with governors from Illinois or Oregon were not any fun at all.

Back then, to Mead’s credit, he was not smug at all. He did comment on Wyoming’s conservative nature, which is one of the reasons our budget gets balanced and there is money in the bank.

When you ponder the state of state economies like Illinois, California or New York, it must be hard for people across the country to even contemplate what it must be like to live in a state where things are predictable.

Wyoming must have looked like some kind of oddball almost un-American place to people living with all the uncertainty that mucks up the status quo of these other states.

Although Mead was cool and calm, I do not think I had ever seen him speak so quickly and cover so much stuff in just a few minutes. 

He was well-coached and well-prepped for the interview, which was staged outside the Cheyenne state capitol building about 6:15 a.m. He covered a large series of topics in rapid fire. His facts were clear and it was easy for the viewer to understand everything he said.

You can only imagine how fortunate his situation looked to those other governors whose daily lives must be a lot like being the ball in a pinball machine, constantly getting battered this way and that from forces both expected and unexpected.

Not A Boom-And-Bust State?

Plus, it was so funny for an old-timer like me to hear the opening introduction where the interviewer commented to Mead “that Wyoming was not a boom-and-bust state” like so many other states. Wow. 

A couple of the questioners zinged him with questions about raising taxes on energy companies and would he not agree that raising taxes would be a good thing like in the other 49 states?

He answered that if the companies were taxed harder it would hurt Wyoming, so he did not favor it. Instead, he urged the reduction of the regulatory burden that the federal government puts on small businesses in states like Wyoming. That concept still makes sense 12 years later. 

Mead was also able to get in some positive comments about our fantastic tourist attractions, the growing technology sector, although they switched subjects and suddenly, just like that, the interview was over.

Most of us love to brag about Wyoming. So did our governor. What he said on that day, thankfully, still applies today.   

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Bill Sniffin

Wyoming Life Columnist

Columnist, author, and journalist Bill Sniffin writes about Wyoming life on Cowboy State Daily -- the state's most-read news publication.