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Governor's Office of Energy Development
Laura Nelson, director of the Utah Governor's Office of Energy Development, signs a memorandum of understanding on Thursday, May 30, 2019, that could potentially open up liquified natural gas exports to foreign markets.

SALT LAKE CITY — Signers inked a historic agreement Thursday at the Governor's Energy Summit, potentially opening up natural gas markets for Western states and the Ute Indian Tribe by looping in the Wyoming Pipeline Authority.

The potential to get cleaner liquefied natural gas to overseas markets could be a financial boon to struggling rural counties in the West and the Ute tribal nation, which have generally been left behind in today's thriving economy.

The Western States and Tribal Nations Agreement, expanded to include the authority, was marked by a ceremonial signing at the Grand America Hotel. It includes signatures from tribal leaders and representatives from the Colorado counties of Garfield, Mesa, Moffat and Rio Blanco.

Governor's Office of Energy Development
Laura Nelson, director of the Utah Governor's Office of Energy Development, signs a memorandum of understanding on Thursday, May 30, 2019, that could potentially open up liquified natural gas exports to foreign markets.

"We're very pleased that stakeholders across the region see the importance of accessing our domestic resources to not only benefit families and businesses here at home but also abroad. The natural gas across the West will be tantamount to achieving both our economic and environmental goals," said Andrew Browning, chief operating officer of the Consumer Energy Alliance, a partner in the effort.

Laura Nelson, Gov. Gary Herbert's energy adviser and executive director of the Governor's Office of Energy Development, said the addition of the Wyoming Pipeline Authority is a critical development to the partnership.

"Their collaboration effectively expands the partnership across Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and tribal nations to promote the development of, and access to, our unparalleled Western energy resources and to growing economies overseas, all while providing for environmental outcomes. We’re proud to see, here in Utah, yet another opportunity to achieve win-win results by advancing strategic partnerships.”

The Western States and Tribal Network was formed following the release of a report in April that detailed the abundant natural gas resources in the Piceance and Uinta basins in Colorado and Utah.

Participants aim to update the report with more information on infrastructure capacity with an eye at serving international liquified natural gas markets.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, one of the panelists at Thursday's summit, said the agreement is another step for securing an export market.

"Wyoming has abundant natural gas, and we have worked long and hard to maximize the value of that resource for Wyoming residents. This coalition allows us to partner on additional efforts to develop gas responsibly and ensure it is used to meet the energy needs of America and the world."

Shaun Chapoose, of the Ute Tribe Business Council, said the addition of the pipeline authority promotes tribal self-determination and economic development.

The Thursday agreement builds on other export agreements the region is pursuing. Last August, Utah signed a cooperative energy agreement with Mexico's state of Baja California.

That memorandum of understanding explores transport options for a port terminal at the Port of Ensenada, which could send coal and liquified natural gas to foreign markets.

The Ensenada port, according to the energy office, is one of the most commercially dynamic exchange locations in the world, with connections to 64 ports in 28 countries. In the coming years, the port is slated to expand to El Sauzal, 5 miles north, creating potential for greater export opportunities for Utah’s commodities.

The agreement cemented a joint effort between Colorado and Utah, which are part of the Western States Regional Natural Gas Initiative.

At Thursday's energy summit, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry said exporting liquid natural gas and cleaner Utah coal into Asian and Indian markets would be huge for those countries in terms of lowering emissions.

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The U.S. Energy Information Administration projects that U.S. liquified natural gas export capacity will more than double by the end of this year, with the country trailing only Australia and Qatar.

For the United States, that is a huge achievement since it only got into the market three years ago when Louisiana shipped its first cargo, according to the administration.

All of the exports — at 3.6 billion cubic feet per day — are concentrated in the Gulf Coast region at present, but the West is looking to break in.