Researching Wyoming’s energy grab-bag

The University of Wyoming is a land-grant university — in addition to educating students, it produces research to better the state and its residents. Energy resources are a huge part of the Wyoming economy, and UW researchers and professors work hard to find how to best utilize what’s at their disposal.

Recent research involves the extensive stores of oil and natural gas under Wyoming’s soil as well as the constantly blowing winds across the plains and over the mountains.

Carbon energy — coal, oil and natural gas — have been a mainstay in the northern part of the state, with huge amounts of the resources sent throughout the country. Professors and students alike have researched ways to increase these output of the wells and mines.

While this can help companies in the energy industry increase production, the main purpose is to research and provide information to ultimately help the state — more companies mining or drilling can lead to more jobs and taxes.

“Our goal, as an institution, is to educate and provide basic, fundamental research,” said Brandon McElroy, professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics.

Another recent study shows considerable growth potential in the near-constant Wyoming wind, which could power California homes in a huge way.

The benefit to Wyoming is constructing wind farms necessary to harness the wind produces jobs and taxes as well as diversifying the economy.

While people around the world are debating the importance of renewable resources and environmental change, UW professors focus on research and the economic benefits it could create.

“Out in the world, there’s a conflict about the safety and reliability of hydrofracking, such as the ban in New York state,” said John Kaszuba, UW associate professor of geology and geophysics. “But that’s not what we’re getting into. We’re looking from a scientific perspective — what happens to the hydrofrack fluid when it’s put down-hole.”

New Environmental Protection Agency rulings increased the carbon regulations, largely affecting coal-burning power plants. Renewable energy, such as wind power, is becoming more and more viable. UW professors and companies building the 1,000-wind turbine Chokecherry Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project in Carbon County said the project is first and foremost about economics.

“This doesn’t just have to be (environmentalists) that are doing this,” said Jonathan Naughton, UW professor of mechanical engineering and director of the Wind Energy Research Center. “We can actually make this into a good economic story. It’s win-win.”

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