Utah’s Fossil Fuels

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Utah’s geography and geologic history have granted the state abundant and diverse natural resources, including fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas. Over the past several years Utah has seen a boost in price and production of these fossil fuels. Central to our history and economy, fossil fuels are expected to be a significant part of Utah’s prosperity for decades to come.


Intermountain Power Project’s coal-burning power plant.

Prospecting and mining of Utah coal began in the 1850s through the 1870s, and since the 1890s the coal industry has continuously been a key sector of Utah’s economy.

By the 1950s, oil and natural gas largely replaced coal as the chief home-heating fuel and for industrial purposes. However, between 1970 and 1983, Utah’s coal production doubled as a result of rising prices of oil. Many of Utah’s electrical power plants were converted from oil to coal at this time.

Coal production in Utah surged through the 1980s and 1990s, reaching an all-time high of 27 million short tons in 1996. The greatest revenue from coal was realized in 1982, at more than a billion dollars (inflation adjusted).

Today, approximately 69% of coal produced in Utah is distributed within the state, the majority of it going to electric utilities. The rest is exported to other states. The average price for residential electricity in Utah is the 5th lowest in the nation – largely because of our abundant supply of coal.

Utah’s coal is desirable because of its high quality, having a low-sulfur and low-ash content. Currently, all coal in Utah is recovered from the Wasatch Plateau, Book Cliffs, and Emery coal fields in central Utah. Huge unexploited reserves remain in other areas of the state.

Utah Coal Highlights

Remaining recoverable reserves in Utah

by coal field, 2010
(Table 2.3)

In the United States, Utah ranks 15th in coal production (in 2010) (Table 2.7).

In 2010, Utah produced 19 million short tons of high-Btu, low-sulfur coal valued at $597 million (Table 2.22).

In 2010, the Wasatch Plateau coal field produced 65% of Utah’s coal, followed by the Book Cliffs (30%) and Emery coal fields (5%) (Table 2.11).

In 2010, Carbon County mines produced the most coal in Utah (46%), followed by Sevier County (33%) and Emery County (21%) (Table 2.10).

Most of Utah’s estimated recoverable reserves of coal are located in the Kaiparowits Plateau coal field (61%), followed by the Wasatch Plateau (8%), Alton (7%), Emery (5%), Kolob (5%), Book Cliffs (5%), and Henry Mountains (3%) (Table 2.3).

Exported Utah coal goes to California, Nevada, Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, and several other states (Table 2.13).

Since 1870, Utah has produced more than a billion short tons of coal (Table 2.10).

The four largest power plants in Utah are fueled by coal (Table 5.1).

Coal fuel provides nearly 81% of all electricity generated in the state (in 2010; Table 5.10a); the U.S. average for electric generation from coal is about 44% (Table 5.8).

Crude Oil and Petroleum Products

In 1850, Captain Howard Stansbury noted signs of oil near Rozel Point on the northern shore of Great Salt Lake. Although some oil was produced beginning in 1904 at the Rozel oil seep, and a few years later at the Virgin River field and at Mexican Hat, large-scale commercial oil development did not begin until the late 1940s and early 1950s in the Uinta and Paradox Basins.

Shortly thereafter, Utah was one of the top 15 oil producing states – a position it has held since. The value of extracted crude oil in Utah for 2010 was nearly $1.7 billion.

Potential drilling targets:
Schematic east-west structural cross section through Sevier Valley, Utah.
From poster presented at AAPG meeting, 10/08/07.

Although Utah’s oil has traditionally been extracted from the eastern region, a fruitful oil field was discovered in 2004 in the central part of the state.

The new Covenant field has highlighted the “Central Utah Overthrust,” a region of extremely complex mountain folds, faults, and thrusts, as a promising new frontier for future oil extraction in the state.

Utah Oil Highlights

In the United States, Utah ranks 12th in crude oil production (in 2010) (Table 3.5).

In the United States, Utah ranks 8th in proven reserves of crude oil (Table 3.1).

Utah contains three of the 100 largest oil fields in the U.S.

Currently, there are 398 million barrels of proven oil reserves in the state (Table 3.2).

In 2010, Duchesne (44% of state total), Uintah (27%), San Juan (17%), and Sevier (10%) Counties produced the majority of the state’s oil. Summit, Garfield, Grand, Carbon, Emery, Daggett, and Sanpete Counties also have producing oil wells (Table 3.7).

Most of the consumption of petroleum products in Utah is for transportation – motor gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel (Table 3.17).

There are five petroleum refineries in Utah (Table 3.13) all in or near Salt Lake City.

Utah refineries import oil from Wyoming, Colorado, and since the mid-1990s, Canada (Table 3.14a).

In 2009, Utah ranked 24th in the U.S. for the highest price of gasoline (Table 3.21).

In 2010, Utah ranked 19th in highest gasoline taxes in the U.S. at 24½ cents per gallon (Table 3.22).

Natural Gas

Gas well in Natural Buttes field.

The first natural gas discovery in Utah happened accidentally, when a water well in the vicinity of Farmington Bay was drilled in 1891 to a depth of 1000 feet. The gas was delivered by wooden pipeline to Salt Lake City in 1895 and 1896 to provide lighting for residents.

As of 2010, Utah has produced more than 8.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The value of natural gas produced in Utah, for 2010, was more than 1.7 billion dollars.

Currently, the pace of consumption of natural gas in Utah is increasing. Much of this increase is due to the electric utility sector, as new natural gas power plants have come online in the past few years. Natural gas is a rapidly growing industry and is an increasingly important natural resource for the state.

Utah Natural Gas Highlights

In the United States, Utah ranks 8th in natural gas production (in 2009) (Table 4.3).

In the United States, Utah ranks 9th in proven natural gas reserves. (Table 4.1).

Utah contains two of the 100 largest natural gas fields in the U.S, including the 5th largest, Natual Buttes.

Utah consumed more than 226 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2010 (Table 4.14).

In 2009, Utah’s proven reserves were about 7.4 trillion cubic feet (Table 4.2).

In 2010, Uintah County produced the most natural gas in Utah (65%), followed by Carbon County (19%), and Duchesne County (8%). Emery, San Juan, Summit, Grand, Daggett, Garfield, and Sanpete Counties also produce natural gas. (Table 4.5).

In 2010, the average price of residential natural gas in Utah was only $8.21 per thousand cubic feet – the third lowest price in the nation (Table 4.17).

More than 80% of households in Utah heat their homes using natural gas.

Most of the natural gas consumed in Utah goes to the residential sector, followed by electric utilities, commercial, and industrial sectors (Table 4.14).


December 5, 2011

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