Holly Krutka: Wyoming Can Still Lead The Way For Energy-Driven Economic Development

Guest columnist Holly Krutka writes, “One of the industry’s top concerns for future growth: How to reduce emissions? Making investments in technologies to give these facilities the tools they need to continue thriving means we are protecting good-paying, blue-collar jobs.”

September 01, 20237 min read

Holly Krutka, executive director for the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming.
Holly Krutka, executive director for the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming. (Courtesy Photo)

It’s no mystery that our state’s economy and way of life are dependent on the success of the energy and extractive industries. In fact, our surveys show that Wyoming’s energy communities are proud of the role they play in fueling the nation and feel strongly that it’s important to continue to do so long into the future.

I agree, but if we want Wyoming’s energy and extractive sectors to continue to be the major economic drivers they are today, it’s imperative that Wyoming leans into the challenges we face.

No other state does a better job balancing energy and mineral production with environmental stewardship. If we seize the opportunities before us, including the acceleration of novel energy technologies, we can continue to maintain a healthy and thriving economy, founded on a robust energy and extractive sector.

While I wasn’t fortunate enough to live in Wyoming in 2006 when the Legislature created the School of Energy Resources (SER) at the University of Wyoming, I believe our elected leaders saw storm clouds on the horizon and decided to act.

From my perspective, the structure, governance and mission that are the foundation of SER were, and remain, visionary.

SER was created to lead energy-related education, research and outreach, and placed at UW to leverage all the potential for innovation, great minds and exceptional facilities housed there.

SER’s mission is to support energy-driven economic development for the state of Wyoming, meaning that we undertake work that leads to incremental revenue and jobs.

Fast forward 17 years to today, I couldn’t be prouder to lead such a talented, dedicated and humble team who work daily to find solutions that mitigate the ever-present storm clouds. This is a pivotal time for Wyoming’s energy industry, and I want folks to understand that at SER we come to work every day knowing that we can and will make a positive lasting impact on Wyoming.

Wyoming is one of the largest energy exporting states in the nation. Given the current state of Wyoming’s energy and mining economy, and the continuing global demand for reliable energy sources, fossil fuels are here to stay.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Association’s reference scenario, fossil fuels will account for about 70% of the energy our nation consumes in 2050. However, tomorrow’s energy industry may not look the same as it does today. And we can’t take for granted that Wyoming energy and extractives will retain their market share.

It is imperative that we are proactive to protect our industry.

Wyoming’s coal, oil and gas are consumed mostly in other states, many of which have emission targets. A first step that Wyoming must take to protect our market share is emphasizing that our energy sector is already setting the bar. Our coal, oil and gas have lower emissions than the same fuels from other states; reclamation here is second to none; and we’re working on other solutions, such as treatments for produced water, new markets for our fuels via hydrogen, non-energy uses for coal, novel work on wind and nuclear energy, educating our students on all these forms of energy and so much more.

We also must continue to develop technologies to support our energy and extractives as emission goals become stricter — namely carbon (CO­2) capture, use and storage (CCUS).

According to the International Energy Agency, the world will need to capture nearly 28 billion tons of CO to meet global emission reduction goals.

While some may see this as a challenge, I see it as an opportunity – especially for Wyoming. While SER and our partners are working to improve the technology and make it more cost effective, we already know how to do CCUS in Wyoming.

In fact, Wyoming has been home to CCUS for decades, as Exxon’s LaBarge facility has captured more carbon emissions than any other facility in the world. The captured carbon, what others may see as a waste, has been a massive asset to Wyoming by producing incremental oil with a lower carbon footprint than much of the oil produced globally.

Carbon capture technologies can be retrofitted to several types of facilities, including power generation, refineries, cement plants, soda ash manufacturing facilities and natural gas processing stations. By retrofitting these facilities with CCUS technologies, we can drastically reduce the carbon emissions these facilities emit.

Any company with an air quality permit, or in need of one, will tell you they view reducing carbon emissions as one of the greatest challenges facing their future operations.

While SER also undertakes policy and regulatory studies that can demonstrate the issues with some federal policies, especially those restricting energy production on federal lands, our goal at SER is to ensure that no power plant or industrial facility in Wyoming will be stalled or stopped due to a lack of CCUS technology.

Investing in the development of new energy technologies like CCUS offers us the ability to diversify our state's existing energy portfolio in a responsible manner that works for Wyomingites and keep the energy sector humming.

Wyoming has a leadership role in developing CCUS. We have a robust regulatory framework, excellent geology, engaged industry players, the Integrated Test Center that was created to test novel carbon capture and use technologies and so much more.

SER and our partners in this space were recently recognized when the U.S. Department of Energy selected an SER-led proposal for negotiation, which will be the largest cooperative agreement in UW’s history — $40.5 million to develop a commercial carbon storage site in southwest Wyoming, matched by the energy matching funds overseen by the Wyoming Energy Authority and our partner Frontier Carbon Solutions — to launch the Sweetwater Carbon Storage Hub.

This will mark SER’s fifth major carbon storage project in Wyoming and the second focused on making progress toward commercial scale, the other being in Campbell County with Basin Electric Power Cooperative. A third is preparing to launch in Oregon focused on developing storage for carbon generated by a power plant using Wyoming natural gas.

These commercial-scale projects explore the cutting-edge science and lead to infrastructure investments needed to sequester carbon from nearby industry, including the trona producers. Trona drives the economy of Sweetwater County and much of southwest Wyoming.

One of the industry’s top concerns for future growth: How to reduce emissions?

Making investments in technologies to give these facilities the tools they need to continue thriving means we are protecting good-paying, blue-collar jobs. Additionally, the deployment of CCUS is creating new jobs and diversifying our economy, supporting generations of Wyomingites to come.

When thinking about the future, it is natural to feel uncertain, but at SER we’re grateful that we don’t have to watch and see what will happen. We can impact the future, thanks to continued support from the Legislature, governor, our industry partners, Wyoming’s energy communities and collaborators across UW.

We know that Wyoming has a strong foundation in place to advance a carbon capture economy.

For our part, I commit that SER will continue to demonstrate how research and technology can be drivers for economic development.

Now is the time to capitalize. Wyoming has everything it needs, so let’s take the reins and make it happen.

Holly Krutka is the executive director of the School of Energy Resources at the University of Wyoming.

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