Feast or Famine

Forget the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. Ignore Saddam Hussein. Okay, well, maybe don't ignore Saddam. But US officials suggest an anonymous computer hacker could be an even greater threat to energy security.

Wyoming has an embarrassment of mineral riches. Within its borders are plentiful deposits of oil, gas, and coal. But the sparsely populated state is suffering from higher energy bills like the rest of the US.

Not being able to take full advantage of one's natural resources is a more common problem outside US borders. Nigeria is the classic example; that oil-rich African nation exports nearly all its crude production, while back at home its citizens routinely suffer power outages and gasoline shortages. Industry generally blames the shortages on a combination of government corruption and scarce capital.

Parallels drawn

No one should suggest Wyoming's energy problems are on the same scale as Nigeria's. Conspiracy theorists aside, US government officials are not hoarding Wyoming's energy production to buy a new Mercedes or Porsche. But there are still some parallels to be drawn, state officials note. They do blame federal authorities and, to some extent, themselves for what they see as redundant and cumbersome regulations that have contributed to today's woes.

Current restrictions to drilling on federal land are part of the problem. A significant part of the state is public land. Much of that acreage cannot be drilled because of environmental concerns that are highly controversial. Yet an even more pressing need is for an expanded and revamped delivery infrastructure to deliver those electrons and hydrocarbons where they are needed.

It's a situation not unique to Wyoming. California has become the poster child of poor energy planning. Still, what has become increasingly clear is that California is not alone. It's not even a regional problem; it's a national one.

The White House early on recognized energy issues would dominate the national domestic agenda, so it attempted to present its own long-term energy policy. But the jury is still out on how much the Bush administration will be able to carry out, given all the competing interests it must deal with-Congress, special interest groups, and its own cabinet members.

Close to home

It was a former Wyoming resident, Vice-Pres. Dick Cheney, who spearheaded the national energy policy effort. And closer to home, state officials are mirroring that effort, albeit on a local scale. They are optimistic that they can help end the gridlock in their own state by harmonizing government agencies to streamline regulations through a new energy commission. Created by the legislature this year, the Wyoming Energy Commission will develop a state energy policy, promote marketing for raw and developed energy products and services, review roadblocks to developing or exporting energy resources, and recommend ways to streamline permitting timetables and other regulations.

The commission has both government and industry officials and held its first meeting last month. Another meeting will be held this July and will have advisory committees to include input from consumer groups and environmental interests.

"Yes, energy is very important to Wyoming, but energy development must be more than basic commodity production. Our economy must be broader than that, in the energy sector as well as the new economy," Gov. Jim Geringer said Apr. 30, when he unveiled the commission. "Wyoming is not just an energy-producing colony."

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