USTAR East: Powering Utah’s Energy Future
Utah’s Uintah Basin is one of the nation’s most promising energy regions, containing not only abundant supplies of conventional oil and gas, but a large potential for unconventional resources such as oil sands, oil shale and the region’s unique waxy crude oil. Only a few years ago, the Uintah Basin’s oil reserves were not economically viable for production. However, through innovative breakthroughs the region’s energy industry is booming.
These breakthroughs are due in part to the efforts of the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative. The USTAR East Technology Outreach Innovation Program (TOIP) team is working with research, industry and entrepreneurial leaders in the energy sector to help Utah in the development and deployment of new energy technologies and to assist the efficient and environmentally responsible production of energy resources in Utah.
“Utah has an abundance of natural resources waiting to be developed in an economically and environmentally responsible way,” said Al Walker, director of the USTAR east region. “Our goal is to connect entrepreneurs who are at the forefront of their fields with industry partners to develop these natural resources.”
The region’s robust growth has spurred legislative action seeking to study improving the transportation options for these and other natural resources from Uintah Basin. The study is a continuation of recent UDOT research that estimated that without significant improvements to the Uintah Basin transportation network there would be roughly $30 billion in lost production and nearly 26,000 jobs by 2042.
This potential for a vibrant Utah energy economy in the Uintah Basin has attracted attention from the Salt Lake Chamber. The USTAR east team is collaborating with Utah’s largest business association in leading a group of the state’s top business leaders and Lt. Governor Greg Bell on an excursion on June 27-28 to gain a better perspective and understanding of the region.
“Incredible things are happening right in our own backyard to power our first-in the nation job growth,” said Lane Beattie, President and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber. “It is vital that Utah’s business community understands firsthand the unique opportunities and challenges that drive that growth, and this trip will do just that.”
In addition to this tour, the USTAR East team also organizes and moderates the annual Waxy Crude Workshop held in Vernal, Utah. The title stems from the Uintah Basin’s unique waxy crude oil which has higher paraffinic (waxy) content than standard crude oil and presents a myriad of challenges to allow for the development of this vital resource. This year’s workshop, the fourth year the event has taken place, attracted approximately 120 people, including 21 engineering students from the University of Utah Chemical Engineering Program.
“The workshop’s main goal was to continue to resolve some of the waxy crude issues in Utah’s Uintah Basin and to explore long-term solutions for this resource,” said Walker. “We are really focused on improving the economic viability of the resource through innovative research which produces increased netbacks for producers and higher revenues for investors.”
In addition to the USTAR region’s focus on energy development USTAR East is working to strengthen that broader business community through a number of entrepreneurial and business resources. Through USTAR East’s efforts of mentoring and assisting has led to $5.2 million for Utah entities. The team has also assisted entrepreneurs with 31 commercialization projects to date and has helped create 101 positions statewide in industry and academic research.
“The best thing that can happen is the energy resources will help drive larger economic growth in the region,” said Walker. “By focusing on developing not only new solutions for the energy industry but also on developing an entrepreneurial ecosystem we can do just that.”