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Asia-Montana Energy Summit

China's growing demand for coal could be filled by exporting from ports in the Northwest. The Asia-Montana Energy Summit will explore the issue and others related to energy.

Asia’s growing energy needs will drive North America’s natural resource development, speakers at the Asia-Montana Energy Summit warned Thursday.

Former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer observed that the Rocky Mountains are becoming North America’s “energy breadbasket.”

But they’re also the continent’s most unpopulated region and far removed from most of the major energy markets. Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and hydropower aren’t keeping up with the world’s growing demand.

“That leaves us with management issues,” Geringer said. “None of us is independent or totally dependent.”

Federal Reserve Board international finance section chief Robert Vigfusson showed statistics of Korea’s economic change related to oil consumption. The country’s per-capita use of oil and income both skyrocketed between 1985 and 1995, before hitting a plateau for the next 15 years.

Vigfusson said many other developing Asian nations could expect to see similar growth trends.

If China, already the world’s largest consumer of petroleum, grew that fast, Vigfusson said it could require double the gains the United States recently made in developing its huge shale oil deposits. And those deposits were the supply that pushed the U.S. from a net importer to a net exporter of energy in the past few years.

Canadian special envoy for Alberta Rob Merrifield said any country hoping to achieve the best conditions for its people must look to its energy supply. As energy exporters, Canada and the United States will have influence over how other nations improve their quality of life.

“The question is, over the next 40 years, how do we double the amount of energy in an environmentally sensitive way?” Merrifield said. “If you’re in the energy business, you better be in the environmental business. If we’re not, we’re not going to be in the energy business that long.”

That means finding ways to get energy from its sources in North America to the markets elsewhere in the world.

Merrifield said in addition to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline coming south from Alberta to Oklahoma and Texas, Canada was also considering a new pipeline going north to Alaska. That state already has ports and facilities ready for international export that both countries could benefit from.

Meanwhile, Asian nations are waiting for the United States to decide how or if it’s going to develop new export terminals along the Pacific Coast. In addition to coal and oil, North America is becoming a world source for liquefied natural gas and uranium for nuclear power.

About 20 percent of the United States' electricity load comes from nuclear power, according to Hoover Institute fellow David Slayton. About two-thirds of that is due to go dark in the next 20 years and must be replaced by something.

Whether that’s burning more hydrocarbons, radically expanding the capacity of renewable energy sources or creating some new energy supply through research and development is a problem that needs a solution soon.

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Natural Resources & Environment Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter for The Missoulian.