Western Wire

The rural region connecting eastern Utah and western Colorado are home to abundant natural gas supplies that promise to compete in global markets and deliver climate benefits along the Pacific Rim yet depend on completion of proposed infrastructure projects, according to a new report. The analysis is the latest in five-year research project initiated by Colorado’s former Gov. John Hickenlooper, the state of Utah, and Ute Nations Tribes, and was released after Colorado Gov. Jared Polis backed out of the coalition after taking office.

“The Piceance-Uinta Basin has a unique advantage over other U.S. and Canadian conventional and shale production areas, which is its abundant and available pipeline export capacity throughout the western U.S.,” Andrew Browning, Chief Operating Officer for Consumer Energy Alliance said in a release accompanying the report.

According to the “Natural Gas Markets for the Western States and Tribal Nations,” released by CEA and co-written by Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America and Mercator Energy, liquified natural gas exports could add nearly $93 billion per year to Gross Domestic Product and help to support nearly 433,000 jobs. Those figures exceed an earlier 2013 report estimating $6 billion in economic benefits and 38,000 jobs for Colorado and $4 billion and 15,000 jobs for Utah.

Commissioned under former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Colorado Energy Office, the Utah Governor’s Office of Energy Development, and Colorado Mesa University’s Unconventional Energy Center, and the Ouray and Uintah Utes, the report was joined by Garfield, Mesa, Moffat, and Rio Blanco counties in Colorado and the LiUNA Local 720 trade union.

The coalition examined the potential for natural gas resources located across the Piceance and Uinta basins of Colorado and Utah, including the addition of the Jordan Cove LNG facility, which Polis hesitated to endorse in his 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Western States and Tribal Nations (WSTN) formed to promote a dialogue between multiple stakeholders throughout the west, including LNG exporters, the broader natural gas industry, tribes, conservation groups, and local governments, “all of whom want to learn how more energy production and pipelines can benefit Colorado, Utah, the sovereign Ute Nation and neighboring states, regions, the nation and other countries — fiscally and environmentally,” Browning added.

“Through the construction of liquefied natural gas pipelines and a west coast export terminal, such as the proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal, Ute Energy can gain access to new energy markets that will alleviate the ongoing marketing and sales inefficiencies,” according to the Ute Tribal Business Committee. “This would also increase the Ute Indian Tribe’s income and assist in its ongoing efforts of economic development and providing essential services for its tribal members,” they added.

In addition to Colorado and the Ute Indian Tribes, Utah officials pointed to the domestic and foreign benefits of supplying natural gas resources located in their backyard to the wider global economy.

“Utah is committed to creating win-win outcomes for economies, locally and globally, by forging strategic partnerships to advance new pathways for the western states and tribal nations’ abundant natural gas resources through key infrastructure development and greater market access abroad,” said Dr. Laura Nelson, Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s energy advisor and Executive Director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development. That includes emerging markets overseas, especially in the Asia-Pacific region.

Local officials in Colorado’s Western Slope agree.

“Our counties are committed to marketing our natural gas resources to Asia and other countries, to help stabilize economies in western Colorado and aid in the geopolitical stabilization of America’s allies abroad,” said Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese in a statement.

The report lists China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and India as leading the growth in energy demand, and illustrates natural gas as a way to mitigate emissions in those nations.

“[N]atural gas is sought after as a lower-emitting fuel source for power generation. LNG exports should also benefit the U.S. from a geopolitical perspective. By supplying clean energy to the world, the U.S. can engage in energy diplomacy, developing allies and strategic alliances with much of the world,” the report’s authors wrote.

The best way to bring the natural gas to market, the report adds, is to complete the proposed Jordan Cove project.

“The most promising U.S. LNG export option on the U.S. Pacific Coast is the proposed Jordan Cove LNG liquefaction facility located in Coos Bay, Oregon. The Jordan Cove LNG project, if completed, will become the best-positioned LNG export terminal in the U.S. to serve markets in Asia. The key advantage that Jordan Cove enjoys is a significantly shorter shipping distance to Asia relative to other LNG export terminals in the U.S.,” the authors wrote.

The Uinta Basin in Utah and the Piceance Basin in Colorado are separated underground by the Douglas Creek arch, but together comprise many hundreds of thousands of acres of surface area. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a report in 2016 increasing the estimate of technically recoverable natural gas in the Mancos Shale deposit from 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to 66.3 trillion, a forty-fold jump, up from just 1.6 trillion estimated 13 years earlier.

In 2018, Pugliese called the reassessment of Mancos Shale deposits and the pursuit of Jordan Cove a “game changer” for the state’s Western Slope, where jobs are still at a premium. The project also enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle, she said, as a “uniquely bipartisan political vision for Colorado’s strong energy future.”