Economic growth in the Equality State blossomed during the second quarter, with a surge in the number of construction jobs thanks to a continued boom in wind and oil projects, according to reports prepared by Wyoming’s Economic Analysis Division.
An uptick in energy development across the state boosted taxable sales in several counties, according to the state’s latest Economic Summary Report published Wednesday. New oil and gas exploration and production largely contributed to the 13.2 percent climb in sales within the mining sector, which encompasses oil and gas development. Employment across all jobs rose 1.6 percent, keeping pace with national gains. Personal income also shot up 6 percent in a single quarter.
Converse County experienced the most stunning growth spurt of the state during the quarter. Year-to-date taxable sales increased by 55 percent, thanks to drilling.
Converse County had the most oil and gas activity in the state, with 21 rigs, according to data collected by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Within Converse and Carbon counties, about a dozen wind projects have been clipping along in various stages of growth, too.
Despite the rosy news for the budget-strapped state, employment rates still fell far below pre-recession levels, and not all counties had the same flurry of economic movement as Converse County.
“The mining sector during the downturn in 2015 and 2016 lost about 9,000 jobs, but we’ve gotten back less than one-third, or approximately 3,000, jobs,” explained Wenlin Liu, chief economist at the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information.
“It’s a rebound, but the rebound overall is supported by the continued exploration of oil and gas in eastern Wyoming,” Liu added.
Other regions of the state, like Sublette County, experienced a slump in economic activity, with taxable sales 23 percent lower than the second quarter of 2018.
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The disparities across the state come down to shifts in energy development, Liu continued. The traditional natural gas industry, heavily concentrated in Sublette County, has plateaued as gas prices nationwide hover at extremely low prices.
“There is a lot of the recovery that has happened in Converse County from (oil and gas) exploration, so they have seen a very strong sales tax increase,” Liu said. “Now, Sublette County, it has been a few years of continued decline.”
The next forecast could also hold sobering results for the coal sector. That’s because the second quarter report did not account for the loss of work for miners at the two facilities owned by bankrupt coal company Blackjewel in July, according to Liu.
The unexpected shutdown of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines sent approximately 600 workers home indefinitely. Only a skeleton crew has returned for maintenance and minimal coal shipment over the past three months. The loss of jobs for hundreds of miners could nudge the low 3.5 percent statewide unemployment rate upward.
What’s more, prices and production of Powder River Basin coal have not budged much since August, according to September’s Wyoming Insight released Friday, a sign that coal production in the basin could be outstripping national demand.
But oil and gas prices also showed strong improvement in September compared to last month.
“The price of natural gas at the Opal Hub rose in September along with the price of crude oil compared to August values,” according to Jim Robinson, principal economist for the state’s Economic Analysis Division.
Opal averaged $2.26 per million British thermal units in September 2019, compared to $1.90 last month. West Texas Intermediate crude oil price, another U.S. benchmark, also increased this month, landing at an average of $57.14 per bbl.