When the oil markets boomed in 2010, oil production in Uintah County more than doubled, increasing 103 percent. This increased the number of oil service companies in the county and contributed economically to a county already experiencing growth in natural gas development. New, unique, and unconventional resources in oil shale and tar sand projects were in development. Jobs were plentiful and the outlook was positive.
Deflating natural gas prices in 2014 and 2015 decreased production, while dropping oil prices significantly reduced development by most conventional and unconventional oil producers. Well-servicing and drilling companies experienced the most immediate impacts, resulting in job losses and reduced workloads. However, many producing companies continue to maintain some level of production and have positioned themselves to handle low prices.
Uintah County is home to the vast majority of oil shale and tar sands in Utah. The estimated 92 billion barrels of recoverable oil from these two resources is a great potential boon for Uintah County. These resources are mined, not pumped or extracted like traditional oil wells. Traditionally, these types of facilities maintain some level of operation through price changes, which increases employment stability.
MCW Energy Group is currently operating a small tar sand oil recovery operation on Asphalt Ridge, just west of Vernal. U.S. Oil Sands is planning on starting their mining operation located south of Vernal in the Book Cliffs by the end of 2015. With an estimated 15 billion barrels of recoverable oil from tar sands, these companies could be the beginning of largescale tar sand development in the state.
If these tar sand mines expand, it could greatly increase economic stability in the area. These operations can typically vary the intensity of their operations to a degree, but shutting down is often cost prohibitive. Even when prices slump they will likely continue developing the resource, leaving jobs in place.
Under Uintah County lies the Green River rock formation with 77 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The thickest, most resource-concentrated sections of oil shale deposits are in Uintah County. Enefit and RedLeaf Resources both took significant strides towards production through 2014, but low prices have slowed their development significantly. TomCo Energy is new to the region as of 2014; they own leases but are waiting until oil prices rise to continue the permitting and facility development process.
Natural Gas Production
Uintah County accounted for 69.3 percent of Utah’s natural gas production in 2013, maintaining their rank as the number one natural gas producing county in Utah. These abundant gas resources diversify Uintah County’s employment and government revenue streams, limiting the impact of low oil prices.
Commercial hub Uintah Basin
Since the Vernal Walmart was completed in December 1990, Vernal has steadily increased its commercial presence in the region and has become the shopping hub for most Basin communities. Today, most major chain stores in the region have locations in Vernal and essentially all personal services are available in Vernal. This increases revenues for the county and city, and has attracted significant population growth. This growth buffers the impact of low oil prices on public finances by diversifying revenue streams and providing additional employment.
Development on Federal Lands
Uintah County’s has 14 percent more federal land than Duchesne County; tribal lands make up 16 percent of the county compared with Duchesne’s almost 20 percent. This has resulted in increased development on federal lands compared to Duchesne County. As a result, Uintah County has less development on private and tribal lands, which lessens the impact of oil and gas development on paved municipal and county roads—much of the oil development occurs away from populated areas and private lands.
Dinosaur national Monument & Tourism
250,000 tourists visited Dinosaur National Monument in 2014, and thousands of tourists rafted the Green River in eastern Uintah County. These and other tourist attractions, like renowned mountain-biking trails, attract a large number of visitors to Uintah County, particularly in summer months. While not the main economic driver, the number of tourists add to Uintah County’s economic diversity and increase possibilities for future economic development.
Uintah County receives significantly more mineral lease funds through the state than Duchesne County as a direct result of a higher percentage of oil and gas development occurring on federal lands. Being the regional shopping hub also increases Uintah County communities’ sales tax revenues, and the natural gas resources significantly add to Uintah County’s revenues.
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