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Senator urges Department of Energy to set up satellite office in Wyoming
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Senator urges Department of Energy to set up satellite office in Wyoming

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Sen. John Barrasso sent a letter to the Department of Energy last week urging the federal agency to set up a satellite office in Wyoming to bolster support for the state’s dominant energy sector as it weathers “serious economic headwinds” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter addressed to Secretary Dan Brouillette, the Wyoming senator said he recommended his home state as a prime spot for the agency to set up an additional location due to its robust energy industry.

“A permanent DOE presence in the state will allow us to build upon this close relationship and further energy research, development, and commercialization objectives of Wyoming and the nation,” Barrasso wrote in the letter sent Friday.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming endorsed Barrasso’s idea.

“Given Wyoming’s status as the largest net exporter of energy in the U.S. and the importance energy production plays in Wyoming’s economy, PAW wholeheartedly supports Senator Barrasso’s call for a permanent Department of Energy Office in Wyoming,” said Ryan McConnaughey, communications director for the association.

“There is often a lack of understanding of the West amongst our federal agencies, and anything that can be done to bridge that gap is welcome,” he continued. “Our federal agencies, whether it be the DOE, (the Bureau of Land Management) or (the Environmental Protection Agency), should be responsive to the people they serve, and putting a DOE office in Wyoming would go a long way in that effort.”

Wyoming has been the top producer of coal nationwide since 1986. It also ranks among the top 10 oil and gas producers in the country. But coal, oil and gas have all taken serious hits during a volatile and unpredictable pandemic. In light of the declining demand for fossil fuels, the state’s leaders have fought to open up additional markets and innovate.

Meanwhile, scientists and engineers have sought ways to convert one of the state’s most abundant resources, coal, into carbon products.

Skeptics maintain new technologies to capture carbon at coal-fired power plants, or create carbon materials from Powder River Basin coal, will not be enough to replace the state’s mammoth coal sector. But Wyoming and several private companies, have received millions of dollars in funding from the Department of Energy in recent years, particularly to advance coal to carbon product technology and research.

As recently as June, the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, alongside Campbell County and the city of Gillette received the Department of Energy’s Technology Commercialization Fund. The $1.62 million grant will support a three-year project to create a pilot-scale facility in partnership with the National Energy Technology Laboratory to commercialize the transformation of coal-related feedstocks, like coal ash, into rare earth elements.

In April, the federal agency also awarded the university $15 million to partner with Basin Electric Power Cooperative in Gillette to construct an underground carbon storage site near the power plant and neighboring Wyoming Integrated Test Center.

Nonetheless, “research and development budgets were the first to be reduced or eliminated as companies tightened their belts,” according to Barrasso. “While there are signs of recovery as economies around the country and world reopen, Wyoming faces a long road ahead.”

A spokeswoman for Barrasso said the Department of Energy had not responded to the letter as of Tuesday.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry at @camillereports

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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