Utah's Energy Summit Highlights Challenges, Successes

SALT LAKE CITY — The Governor's Utah Energy Development Summit opened Tuesday amid an economic climate for fossil fuels dominated by uncertainty and pessimism — at least for the coming months.

Utah, like other states rich with carbon fuels, is suffering in the aftermath of the tanking oil and gas industry.

The state saw the value of its energy production shaved by half in a year's time, fueled by natural gas prices that have plunged 43 percent, coal production that is at its lowest in almost 30 years, and drilling rigs that have nearly vanished from Utah's once promising oil and gas fields.

The summit, however, featured a panel discussion that included female executives such as Cindy Crane, president and chief executive officer of Rocky Mountain Power, and Karma Thomson, vice president of environment and security at Tesoro, detailing how they've weathered the volatile commodity market.

On Wednesday, participants will hear from Gov. Gary Herbert and Scott Saxberg, chief executive officer of Crescent Point Energy, on why there's good reason to ride out the rough times — evidenced by Crescent Point's hope for a new 4,000 oil and gas well project in the Uinta Basin.

The summit will give policymakers, industry leaders, elected officials, regulators and others a chance to huddle and brainstorm about what the future might bring on the energy landscape, especially in light increasing regulations and the financial upheaval.

In Utah, the plummeting prices prompted state lawmakers to make an emergency appropriation of nearly $1 million to prop up the state's oil and gas regulatory budget for the coming year. The number of inspectable oil and gas well units has nearly doubled in the past decade, and the state is bracing for revenue reductions.

It's been worse in other states, such as Alaska, which has grappled with a $3.5 billion shortfall that has state leaders considering cutting money for pre-K programs. In Oklahoma, lawmakers debated shortening school weeks to just four days, and Wyoming had to withdraw $180 million from its rainy day fund.

Fossil fuel critics say the economic climate is ripe for a transition to clean energy, and advocates Tuesday continued to criticize the state's decision to stay implementation of Obama's Clean Power Plan — which regulates emissions from coal-fired power plants — pending the outcome of a legal challenge.

“Utah is squandering a critical opportunity to gather stakeholders to plan to build a great, 21st century energy system centered on renewable energy,” says Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director.

Pacenza was one of several people gathered outside the Salt Palace Convention Center on the summit's opening day as exhibitors began setting up for the two-day event.

He said the summit is dominated by vendors pushing fossil fuels, although several company displays spoke to the benefits of solar and transmission systems that convey renewable energy.

Herbert, in his opening remarks, stressed that people expect foremost that energy be sustainable and affordable, but people are also desiring their energy to be cleaner.

"Most all of us respect the idea of being good stewards of the Earth," the governor said. "We want to have clean air (and) clean water, and if we dig a hole, we want to fill it back up."

Herbert added that the ingenuity of energy developers, coupled with technological advancements, will continue to build on the state's embrace of a diverse energy portfolio that meets that trio of needs.

"What we see around the corner is exciting," he said.

Herbert also announced that Laura Nelson, who heads of the Governor's Office of Energy Development, will step into the role of his energy policy adviser, allowing that office to work more directly with the governor's office on energy issues.

Cody Stewart, who had been the adviser, will continue as policy director.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

Photo: FILE — Cindy Crane, president and chief executive officer of Rocky Mountain Power addresses employees at an outdoor event in 2015. Crane is part of a panel discussion at the fifth annual Governor's Utah Energy Development Summit. Rocky Mountain Power
Energy & Natural Resources
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Deseret News Tue, 05/24/2016 - 18:15