Energy development in Utah has been a favorite “go to” for various groups, particularly those on the right. Developing Domestic Sources of Terrorism-Free Energy™ (or something full of hyperbole) means that punching holes in and scraping away layers of the earth are valid and encouraged methods of business here and in other places in the US.
Not one to be left out on the financial and political fun, the Governor’s office is sponsoring an “Energy Development Summit” on February 15th.
“Five power-packed [insert rimshot here] tracks will cover conventional, unconventional, energy efficiency, renewable and additional energy sources and will discuss the hottest topics in energy today.”
The primary goal for Governor Herbert (seen right) here is fellating businesses for jobs*. Back in September 2011, per a mandate from the 2011 State Legislature, the Governor organized the Economic Development Coordinating Council (EDCC). The primary goals of the EDCC are to coordinate state interests with private interests and identify opportunities for growth. I suspect these “councils” are really slumber parties where a bunch of people from the government sit around in PJs playing Mystery Date, only the “dates” they’re going through are various energy development corporations and nobody wants to get stuck with
the loser Energy Solutions.
These private-public partnerships (PPP) are popular, allowing those on the right to rationalize government involvement because it’s being done under the guise of “business”. Many criticize PPPs because the private “P” of these agreements have an obligation to maximize shareholder revenue, meaning they’re in it for short term profit. Also, it’s often the case that these projects come with a higher cost of debt to all parties involved, because private financing comes at higher rates than if the governmental entity simply bonded the cost of the project. However, in the hostile to government environment that is Utah, PPPs are usually the only methods by which large governmental projects can take place (see I15 reconstruction).
This Energy Development Summit will focus primarily on encouraging business growth in the energy sector, both in conventional / unconventional forms of fossil fuels and in renewable methods. In order to keep the green folk from clashing with the drillers, the published agenda (PDF) has multiple tracks intended to focus on separate areas. In the past discussions about fossil energy have been held separately from renewable ones, probably because they couldn’t be seen in the room together. According to the Governor this has been the case “due to the fact that Utah will be reliant upon conventional energy sources for most of its energy production (as much as 98.5 percent) for the foreseeable future.” And when you’ve got a good thing going, why try and change it? This summit will see them mixing together in the general sessions. Let’s hope they stay amicable.
One of the agenda tracks focuses on increased interest in developing Utah’s oil shale and sands. Modeled after Alberta’s massively destructive (but profitable) extraction of oil from sands and shale, there are an estimated 12 to 19 billion barrels of crude available primarily in Eastern Utah in a bitumen, sand, clay and water mixture. Developing these areas would be a boon to Utah financially, and woefully destructive too. Utah isn’t scared of a little strip mining though, with the world’s largest open pit mine featured as a backdrop to Salt Lake City. Aside from the land destruction, there are issues surrounding water use with this development. Depending on the production method, tar sand extraction requires anywhere from two to five units (PDF) of water for every unit of oil recovered. Most of this water can be recycled, but it’s a large quantity of a scarce resource to tie up in extractive operations. Judicious use of Utah’s water resources, like the Colorado River (which already provides drinking water for 1 in 12 Americans), will become ever more important in the future.
Coordination of these various groups will hopefully encourage dialogue and understanding that not 100% of any method is the right way, and will hopefully bring diversification to Utah’s energy portfolio. A fantastic collection Utah’s energy portfolio has been compiled by the Utah Geological Survey (PDF). Almost all of the state’s energy production comes from coal and natural gas fired power plants, with an honorable mention to geothermal production. Utah has been a net exporter of energy since 1980, both in forms of exported fuel and electrical generation. Focus on new technologies will ensure that Utah can become a leader in high-tech jobs, and hopefully subvert some of the established mindset about fossil fueled energy production.
*Don’t forget the balls.