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Wyoming Energy Rebound program applications open
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Wyoming Energy Rebound program applications open

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Look Ahead: Energy

Workers sort drilling pipe at an Encana natural gas rig in 2013 in the Jonah Field near Pinedale. Applications for an energy relief program are being accepted as of today.

Relief for Wyoming oil and gas industry has arrived.

Gov. Mark Gordon has officially launched an economic stimulus program aimed at boosting the state’s struggling oil and gas industry as it recovers from the economic collapse of energy markets this year.

The Wyoming Business Council released the guidelines for the Energy Rebound Program on Monday. Applications will stay open for one week.

The $15 million available to operators working in Wyoming will come from federal CARES Act dollars.

The program will direct resources into specific projects, such as plugging and abandoning wells, drilling uncompleted wells or re-completing wells.

Uncompleted wells have a well bore drilled, but oil and natural gas have yet to be extracted. To complete the well, operators engage in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Re-completing takes place when a well has already been drilled and completed, but some oil remains that can still be extracted using other recovery methods.

According to the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, this investment in one of the state’s leading industries could have high returns for Wyoming. For instance, infusing $500,000 into fracking an uncompleted well could bring in about $10 million in state and local taxes over the well’s lifespan, with about $8 million flowing in within the first year, according to the group’s estimates.

Wyoming operators will be eligible for up to $500,000 in aid for projects disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When global demand for oil plummeted due to COVID, work stopped almost immediately in the oil and gas industry in Wyoming,” Gordon said in a statement Monday. “This program is tailored to provide opportunities for employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased.”

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Last year, Wyoming’s oil and gas industry funded a significant portion of the state’s budget, providing $1.67 billion to state and local governments in the form of taxes and other fees.

But times have changed.

Earlier this spring, a global oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia caused the price of oil to tank. Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic brought the economy to a near standstill, chilling demand for fuel.

By April, the glut in supply and drought in demand caused oil prices to go negative. West Texas Intermediate contracts for May sold at negative $40 per barrel, plummeting roughly 300% a day before the deadline to purchase them. In June, Wyoming’s oil and gas rig count sank to zero for the first time in over 136 years.

The series of events this year have devastated the U.S. oil and gas business. As of Friday, Wyoming had a rig count of three, 27 less rigs than a year ago, according to Baker Hughes.

The AFL-CIO in Wyoming praised the state’s decision to create the Energy Rebound Program. But the group encouraged the state to devote relief specifically to projects employing Wyoming workers.

“The Wyoming State AFL-CIO insists that the companies receiving the CARES funds be required to hire Wyoming workers exclusively,” President John Hastert said in a statement. “Wyoming’s workers are the backbone of a strong state economy and using Wyoming CARES funds to put Wyoming workers back on the payroll is how we will rebuild Wyoming’s struggling economy.”

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group, was supportive of helping oil and gas workers, but also cautioned the state against “subsidizing select private companies.” It advocated for plugging and reclaiming orphaned wells.

“Our oil field workers have been hard hit by the industry’s COVID-related disruption,” Bob LeResche, a Powder River Basin Resource Council board member, said in a statement. “However, we urge the governor and the Wyoming Business Council to use this $15 million to put people to work on plugging and reclaiming orphan wells, for which the state is responsible. Completion or re-completion of a few select industry-owned wells is directly interfering in the marketplace and picking winners and losers — things the state should never do.”

Applications are due by 10 a.m. on Monday. More information available at: https://wyomingbusiness.org/ERP.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry and the environment 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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