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Coal Train

A train transports coal from a mine south of Gillette last week.

Wyoming’s energy industries appear to be stabilizing after gradual improvement following the downturn of 2016, a trend expected to have a similar impact on the state’s economy, according to a recent analysis from state officials.

For some time, the refrain in Wyoming industries had been, “It’s better than it was,” a reference to any uptick after the unprecedented decline in coal, oil and gas. The downturn wrecked local and state coffers and shrank the state’s employment by more than 11,000 jobs.

And while the various sectors that compose the state’s economy, from coal mining to retail sales, have made progress over the last six months, economists say the state has leveled off.

“Most of the boost in the economy was due to mining, the recovery of the mining sector somewhat,” said Jim Robinson, a state economist. “It’s certainly improved from where we bottomed out a year ago.”

The revenue picture still represents a significant challenge. The state’s annual economic forecast is due out next week, which will shed light on Wyoming’s financial landscape before the governor releases his proposed budget at the end of the year.

Coal jobs have remained static, with about 5,400 miners working at Wyoming mines in August, the same as the year before. But oil and gas employment has seen monthly gains.

Robinson said he’s seeing a positive trend in statewide employment.

Jobless claims in the mining sector, which includes oil and gas, are down by more than 75 percent, according to the state’s monthly report.

“That’s the first thing you notice: Oil and gas jobs come back,” Robinson said of the improvements in 2017. “Maybe six months later, some of those other industries that are impacted by mining start to show some of that impact as well.”

Sales and use taxes and severance income are up, Robinson said. But the rate of growth may be slowing a bit, he said.

The rig count, a predictor of company investment in drilling that increases the stream of cash to local business and government, has remained stable since spring. Oil and gas spot prices have stayed in a narrow band, with the West Texas Intermediate price hovering around $50 a barrel or lower. Coal production is up by nearly 15 percent for the first nine months of 2017 compared with that period last year, when production fell to 30-year lows.

As those three fossil fuel sectors — the triumvirate of the state’s income and tax base — level out, so do the economic gains elsewhere.

“We’ve had two quarters of 2017, in terms of personal income, that have indicated that the economy was improving, but with that second-quarter report the improvement was much smaller,” Robinson said “That tells me that whatever that boost was that the state got from an increase in activity has pretty much had its impact.”

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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