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My View: Energy development fuels Uintah Basin economy

By Laura Nelson

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 3 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

Promise and potential underscore energy development opportunities in Utah's Uintah Basin.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News

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Responsible energy development is a key part of the Utah economy, and it is a driving force behind growth in the Uintah Basin. Our current energy boom is driven by market conditions as well as a technological revolution that has come in the form of new drilling and well-stimulation techniques.

Energy is creating high-paying jobs. Energy jobs in Utah account for 1.4 percent of the state’s jobs — just under 18,000 — but account for 2.6 percent of the state’s total wages. The average energy job in Utah pays nearly double the state’s average wage, and Duchesne and Uintah counties boast the highest median wages in the state.

The Uintah Basin has an astounding 2.7 percent unemployment rate, with thousands of jobs currently available in Duchesne and Uintah counties. As a result, Duchesne County is the second-fastest growing rural county in America, and Vernal is the sixth fastest growing micropolitan area in the nation. In fact, one in five jobs in Uintah County is energy-related, and in Duchesne, that number is one in four. Wages are up not only for jobs directly related to the energy sector, but many indirectly related as well, including construction jobs, transportation jobs and jobs within the hospitality industry.

Our as-yet-untapped oil shale and oil sands resources are by far the largest resources in the country, with an estimated 77 billion barrels of oil recoverable from oil shale, and 15 billion barrels of oil recoverable from oil sands. These are perhaps Utah’s most promising energy resources in terms of future revenue and job creation potential.

Utah is willing — and has proven itself able — to manage its natural resources effectively, but we remain subject to arcane federal regulatory processes that hinder our natural, environmentally responsible economic growth. While the Uintah Basin is particularly harmed by these delays, the area has also shown remarkable innovation and cooperation as many sectors have come together to find workable solutions.

For example, recent road improvements in rural Uintah County were done without using taxpayer dollars but with partnerships that included the counties, commissioners, the transportation authority and industry representatives. These groups proactively identified road improvements important for sustaining development and worked together to make it happen while improving safety and protecting the environment.

A strong partnership between education and industry has also been a key factor in the success of the Uintah Basin. The Uintah Basin Applied Technology Center (UBATC) is placing a high rate of its graduates in the energy industry and related fields. Students now participate in hands-on training with outdoor oil wells, natural gas wells and other industry-specific equipment. Indoors, UBATC has state-of-the-art well-simulation equipment that gives students from all over the world the opportunity to learn and practice a number of real-world scenarios with a top-notch instructor.

The Uintah Basin Energy Summit is an annual event that brings together leaders from industry, education, the community and the public sector to learn about and discuss the future of energy development. This year’s summit, to be held on Thursday, will feature speakers from across the spectrum and will showcase examples of innovation, collaboration and problem-solving. In other words, the unique brand of self-determination Utah is known for.

Utah has seen some exciting energy innovations over the last several years, and with energy development as a key cornerstone of Gov. Gary Herbert’s administration, that trend will continue.

Laura Nelson is the director of the Governor’s Office of Energy Development. She has extensive experience in the energy field and has worked in the public sector, the private sector and in the education community.

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