Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon, right, and Department of Energy Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy Steven Winberg hold a joint press conference discussing carbon capture and new coal technologies on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, inside the Idleman Mansion in downtown Cheyenne. Assistant Secretary Winberg is on a state-wide tour of fossil fuel energy industry facilities and research facilities. Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

GILLETTE — There are a lot of risks involved in starting a business, many financial and technological. But right up there is another type of risk that many often don’t think about, and that’s the permitting process.

Jim Ford, an energy consultant for Campbell County, said it’s hard to get to work when you don’t have permission to get to work.

It’s an especially important piece to the puzzle that is Carbon Valley.

“It’s a very important incentive to drive research, demonstration and industry around the ideas for this new carbon age,” Ford said.

With the Integrated Test Center at Dry Fork Station, each contestant in the XPrize competition has been required to secure its own air emissions permit through the state Department of Environmental Quality, Ford said. Jumping through bureaucratic and regulatory hoops is not something that comes naturally, especially for scientists and researchers.

If the county does the heavy lifting beforehand, that would make Campbell County much more attractive to researchers.

“We want them to come in with an assurance that they could run their process without having to wait a year and a half chasing down permitting,” Ford said.

What Ford hopes to do is get an air quality permit for the 9.5 acres of land around the Advanced Carbon Products Innovation Center.

“If we’re able to find a way to create this bubble air emissions permit, I think it could be a huge, huge pull,” he said, adding that he’s not sure if it’s even possible under current state law.

The county would be the permit applicant but would not be the entity creating the emissions.

Now, the applicant for a permit is responsible for monitoring and reporting to make sure air quality “stays consistent with the limitations of the permit,” said County Administrative Director Carol Seeger.

What the county wants to do is apply for the permit on behalf of “a bunch of potential emitters,” she said, while not doing any emitting of its own.

“It’s not set up right now, statutorily, for that concept,” Seeger said.

“That’s where we need to take it to the Legislature,” said Commission Chairman Rusty Bell. “This concept seems fair.”

Ford said he also wants to use this as a stepping stone to get a larger bubble permit “to find a way through that regulatory thicket and drop some breadcrumbs along the way to be able to retrace our path.”

Ford said when he really lets himself dream about the carbon possibilities for the area, one thing he’s very excited about is the idea of offering carbon capture sequestration as a utility, just like water or electricity.

If the county could offer a place for researchers and companies to store carbon dioxide for a price, “that would really make waves out in the world in terms of us demonstrating our commitment toward what we want to do here,” Ford said.

“We’re not at that point yet, but it should be on everybody’s radar,” Bell added.

There now are a lot of questions and not many answers. If the county’s going to get this done, it needs the backing of the state.

“We can’t make the conversation just about Campbell County,” Ford said. “This concept works for us, obviously, but it also applies in Lincoln County, Sublette, Converse, all these other places that face the same issues.”

Collaboration is key, he said.

“What we do here is a scaffold to support the overall vision of the state,” Ford said. “If we’re doing something wildly out of tune with what the state’s priorities are, maybe we need to adjust. Or maybe they need to adjust.

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