Commentary - June 26th, 2014
2:45 pm
Thu June 26, 2014

Energy Resources are the Future of Montana’s Economy

Hello, I’m Don Sterhan with the Montana Business Leadership Council, a non-profit organization aimed at educating Montanans about the importance of a healthy climate for business and industry to create more jobs, higher wages, and new opportunities.

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The renaissance in American energy production has already had a profound impact on our economy, jobs, and our quality of life.  And projections into the future are bright, perhaps no where more so than right here in Montana—that is, as long as we take some simple steps to ensure Montana’s vast energy resources can reach the markets where demand is growing.

In April of this year, our net import of energy reached a 26-year low, and America’s energy self-sufficiency continues to increase.  America currently produces about 85 percent of the energy we consume.  That’s truly remarkable, considering that just 10 years ago we imported about one-third of our energy.

This month, North Dakota’s oil production surpassed one million barrels per day for the first time ever—America now produces over eight million barrels of oil a day.

The turnaround in our energy self-sufficiency deserves credit, in large part, from the technological breakthroughs of fracking and horizontal drilling, which have made it economical to recover oil and gas from more places.

But equally important to the technology that has improved production prospects is the fact that Americans are blessed with an incredible abundance of energy.  And no state is more blessed than Montana.

The United States is home to some of the largest proven oil reserves in the World. For domestic oil reserves, Montana ranks tenth among the states. 

Even more significant, the U.S. has the largest coal reserves in the world and no state has more coal than Montana.  In fact, we have more than twice the coal reserves than the next closest state, Wyoming.  We have so much coal that at our current rate of production we could be mining coal in our state for another sixteen hundred years.

The incredible energy reserves we have in our state represent the most important economic opportunity we have.  Putting those resources into production will create thousands of jobs, improve the economy in every part of the state, and expand our tax base to benefit schools and government infrastructure in every Montana community.

But to take advantage of that opportunity, our Montana energy resources need to be able to get to market.  There are three major issues that need our attention in order to prevent transportation hurdles from getting in the way of our prosperity.

First, the Keystone XL pipeline is a no-brainer.  The proposed pipeline would be an economic boon to Montana, with new jobs provided by the construction phase and by providing a healthy property tax footprint in the long term.  But most significantly, Keystone XL would provide an onramp for Montana-produced oil to reach new markets.

Second, Congress needs to authorize expanded exports of liquefied natural gas.  Right now, gas exports are artificially limited.  Our country has never produced more natural gas than it is right now, and to continue increasing production and providing jobs, we need to be able to export a portion of that production and ship it to our allies in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere.

Third, the Administration and the states of Oregon and Washington need to stop delaying construction of new West-Coast export facilities to ship American coal to growing markets.  Throughout the world, no energy source is growing faster than coal, but existing American ports are at full capacity for exports.  To gain the competitive advantage of Montana’s valuable coal reserves, we need new ports.

These three issues—Keystone XL, natural gas exports, and coal exports—are the most important issues that Montanans should be concerned with related to energy.  You can help by communicating with your elected leaders and encourage them to act in Montana’s best interest.

With Montana coal valued at $1.5 trillion, and our oil and gas reserves at billions more, we definitely have a lot at stake.