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A Q&A with the Petroleum Association of Wyoming about state legislation that could impact the industry

Pump Jack image included in the PAW's presentation
Petroleum Association of Wyoming

The Wyoming legislature is already halfway through. Lawmakers started out considering more than 500 bills, but there were a lot of deadlines this past week and only about half of those bills are still alive.

Being that Wyoming is the energy state, a lot of the legislation touches on how the state will manage and develop its energy industry, including more traditional sources, like coal, oil and natural gas, and renewables, like nuclear, rare earth minerals, wind and solar.

Wyoming Public Radio’s energy reporter Caitlin Tan recently was at the Capitol in Cheyenne. She sat down with a couple people from energy advocacy groups that represent different schools of thought on Wyoming energy. To hear the other interview with the Powder River Basin Resource Council click here.

This interview is with Pete Obermueller, who is the president of the Petroleum Association Wyoming. The group represents oil and gas companies in the state.

Editor’s note: This story has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Caitlin Tan: We're halfway through the session, and there were a lot of bills that died this week. Tell me about how the session has been going for you, and what you're looking forward to.

Pete Obermueller: It's been a relatively light session for oil and gas issues – energy issues kind of at large. There's a lot going on in Wyoming and nationally on more cultural issues, and so the legislators have taken a bit of a hands off approach on energy issues. It's probably good for us.

On a national level, energy issues are more front and center. So you heard President Biden talk about it in the State of the Union, the federal government is a lot more active in oil and gas, particularly on public land states like Wyoming. And so the state legislators are taking a little bit more of a hands off approach this year. So it's not been that complicated for us this session.

CT: Do you have concerns with the federal government taking a direct approach towards energy issues?

PO: Of course, and we've talked about that a lot. They are fundamentally opposed to oil and gas drilling on public lands. I mean, they're very open about that. I don't even have to put words in their mouth, they say it pretty clearly. So a lot of the changes that are happening at the federal level have pretty deep impacts in Wyoming. So the state legislators here in the capitol are trying to figure out ways that within their power, that they can make sure that Wyoming's number one industry in terms of economic development and employment and all of that can stay vibrant and viable. So we appreciate their support in that regard.

CT: Going forward, there's not going to be any new legislation introduced. What are a couple bills, one or two, that you're watching that you want to kind of break down for us and why the general public in Wyoming should care about them?

PO: There's a couple on the tax side. There's lots of bills this session regarding property tax, the few counties around the state where people saw their property tax increase kind of significantly, and so they're trying to figure out how to deal with that. And from our perspective, in the oil and gas world, oil and gas and coal minerals, we pay 54 percent of all the property tax in Wyoming. We pay the lion's share of what it costs to run our K through 12 education. So property tax discussions are important to us because of how imbalanced our tax code is. So we're just very interested in making sure that our tax code doesn't drive us apart further in Wyoming in terms of what minerals pays, and what everyone else pays to send our kids to K through 12.

The other topic is carbon capture and sequestration. And Wyoming has some really great geology for storing that carbon. We actually have really good laws in place already on how to do that, and how people can get paid, and working through the bureaucracy to make that happen. But there are some outstanding questions that we need to resolve in order to allow for carbon capture sequestration in Wyoming. And so that's going to be a big topic after the session through the year. The bills that came out this year were all set aside in favor of doing a little bit more work on that.

CT: We've seen some bills looking at renewable energy, we've seen bills looking at more of our traditional resources – how do you feel like lawmakers have represented energy in Wyoming?

PO: On taxation, there's still a bill alive that would institute an excise tax on a per megawatt hour tax on solar in Wyoming. And wind already pays that and solar does not. And so there's a bill to equalize those, and a lot of discussion about how does our tax code indicate what types of energy we favor in Wyoming? So, if there's one particular source that really isn't taxed in the way the others are – is that saying that that's our number one? That's what we favor in Wyoming? And so that discussion is still happening, that bill is still alive.

Minerals contribute a lot to the state, not just in terms of tax revenue, but in terms of employment just in oil and gas, over 12,000 people in Wyoming are employed directly by our industry. So it's hugely important and lawmakers are always trying to figure out the right balance of making sure that the industry can continue to be active and vibrant, and making sure that Wyoming can capture revenue that's necessary to run our schools and pay for government services and all those sorts of things.

So, for the most part, I think they do an okay job on that balance. We do believe that our tax code is pretty imbalanced right now, and that deserves some more attention and more work. That's an ongoing process.

CT: You mentioned carbon capture – anything else going forward this year in the oil and gas world that you're going to be looking at and that you could see maybe happening?

PO: Again, that is largely related to national and even global trends that we in Wyoming and particularly state legislators don't have a lot of authority over. People have experienced the rising energy costs – prices at the pump, and also the cost to heat your home with natural gas. And that's been an issue, it’s certainly been an issue in my house this year, is seeing that increase.

Those global influences on industry in Wyoming that really is made up mostly of small operators in Wyoming in terms of oil and gas. About 80 percent of the wells in Wyoming are owned by small mom and pop companies in Wyoming. So people like to talk about big oil. It's not really what we have in Wyoming, we have Wyoming oil, and those global influences really impact what happens here. And so we'll be watching that, and watching what the state can do to try to help keep prices at a level that is sustainable, both for industry and for consumers. And that's a tricky balance. And we'll be focusing on that pretty heavily going forward.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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