- Associated Press - Thursday, February 1, 2018

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Tony Chaput opened his business serving gas fields one year ago in March and has seen nothing but growth.

Five employees launched the Casper branch of Circle B Measurement and Fabrication, which has headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Within six months, as the economy improved, Circle B opened a second shop in town. The company hit the 50-employee mark this week.

Chaput is not the only one benefiting from the improvements in the oil and gas fields.

The Wyoming economy is headed into 2018 with a number of modest improvements under its belt, largely due to gains in the state’s fossil fuel industries over the second half of 2017, from drilling interest to company spending, according to a monthly snapshot of the Wyoming economy.

A two-year slump in prices drove companies to bankruptcy and layoffs. The Wyoming economy is still hurting from the missing revenue - the state depends on energy dollars for more than three-fifths of its income and currently has a gaping hole in its budget - but the bleeding slowed in early 2017, and has slowly improved since the bottom of the bust.

Many of the gains are the result of improvements in the price of crude, which jumped up in January after six months of stable, if minor, advances, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.

The benchmark price of oil, West Texas Intermediate, averaged $63.46 in January, up from a $57.94 average in December. The January average is about $11 higher than last year.

The number of applications to drill for oil in Wyoming jumped in kind. Applications were 28 percent higher in the second half of 2017 compared to the previous year, from 7,366 to 10,175 applications, according to state economists.

The price of natural gas has also improved slightly in the short term. The January average for the spot price Opal Hub, $3.10, was up 17 percent compared to the December average, but is still down from the previous year.

Company interest in drilling for gas was up nearly 68 percent, with 1,400 applications to drill in the latter half of 2017.

Chaput gets about 99 percent of its business from the gas fields.

The Casper native said economics are only part of the picture. As prices improved in 2017, so did the political support for fossil fuels, he said.

“The reason we are so busy is the increase in natural gas. But my personal opinion, the biggest drive is the administration,” he said of President Donald Trump. “The industry just feels at ease.”

Company spending has improved according to the latest numbers. Wyoming counties with strong coal, oil and gas activity have led the way in sales and use tax increases.

In the last six months of 2017, sales and use tax collections rose to $359 million, about an 18 percent increase over the previous period in 2016, according to the economic snapshot.

“Sublette, Converse, and Campbell counties registered the largest gains in collections in a year-over-year comparison,” said Jim Robinson, principal economist for the Economics Analysis Division in a statement.

Converse and Niobrara counties saw the most rapid growth spurts.

Sales and use taxes from the mining sector, which includes the coal and oil and gas industries, increased by $25.5 million in the second half of 2017, compared to the last six months of 2016.

Despite gains, employment in the mining sector has not risen much since the middle of last year.

Oil and gas jobs numbered 11,900 in December, about 1,500 more than the year before. Those employment numbers rose in the summer of 2017 and have remained modestly improved to stable ever since.

Chaput, of Circle B, said he believed the small shops were more nimble in responding to increased demand. He’s anticipating an uptick in business that could add another 35 employees to his shops by year’s end.

“I think we’re in for a couple good years.”


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com

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