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Utah Energy Potpourri -- Fossil + Alternatives

In a state that historically has liked its electricity supplies coal-based to match one of its most abundant native resources, Utah's energy picture is increasingly becoming a stew complete with increased natural gas, oil, geothermal, solar and even some visions of a first-in-the-state nuclear generation plant. The state Division of Oil, Gas and Mining earlier this summer confirmed that record natural gas and oil production is showing up in Utah.

A Provo, UT-based geothermal developer, Raser Technologies, reported Aug. 11 it had acquired a new lease agreement for another 20,000 acres of geothermal, surface and other rights near its existing Thermo project site in Beaver County that an independent consulting firm recently concluded could produce as much a 200 MW; currently Raser has a long-term contract to provide 10 MW from the site.

Other plays in the solar and wind sectors are being proposed. The Utah Wind Working Group is an organization comprised of representatives from federal, state and local governments, utilities, renewable energy advocates, the wind power industry, environmental organizations, landowners and other entities pushing the development of wind energy facilities in Utah.

In March Utah set an all-time record for natural gas production, the state said, hitting 35 Bcf. It was the highest monthly total since May 1994. "Market conditions continue to drive production," said Gil Hunt, associate oil/gas director for the state. "Although the division has been processing fewer applications to drill, high prices and increasing demand continue to fuel energy development."

The latest full-year data from the state oil/gas division shows oil and natural gas producers in Utah are "setting records." Natural gas producers set an all-time production record of 385 Bcf in 2007, according to the state department's statistics. Oil production set what the state called "a near-record high" at 19.5 million barrels last year.

Producing wells increased to 4,684, the state said, with Uintah, Carbon, Duchesne, Emery, San Juan and Summit counties being the largest gas producers.

"This was accomplished by drilling record numbers of wells in the state the last few years," said Hunt. "Without it, production numbers would continue to decline as demand continues to increase."

Oil production last year was the highest it had been in 10 years. Duchesne County was the highest producing county, followed by Uintah.

Despite the increased interest in all forms of energy, the startup companies still face daunting tasks in getting in the black in there operations. Publicly traded Raser Tuesday reported continued loses as it costs soar as it tries to bring on line a number of new projects while it still have little or no new revenue stream. For example, Raser reported second quarter revenue this year at $5,880, compared with $28,562 for the same period in 2007, with operating expenses of $6.5 million for the second quarter this year, compared to $3.5 million for the period last year.

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