Wyoming state economist Jim Robinson doesn't see much hope for improving natural gas prices anytime soon.

He says the only good news about gas prices is that they haven't been fluctuating very much. Unfortunately, the level they have stabilized at is about $1.70 to $1.80 per mcf, which isn't enough to spur much activity in the Wyoming gas industry.

Robinson says he doesn't expect that to change much over the next few months.

Besides the obvious loss of jobs and overall economic impact of such low prices, the loss of severance tax money generated by natural gas production poses problems for state government. That's because natural gas taxes have been a major source of funding for government operations in recent years.

The state funding situation is made even worse by the fact that the coal industry, another major source of state money over the years, is likewise slumping. The coal industry is facing mores stringent environmental regulations that make it a less viable choice for generating electricity.

Because natural gas can also be used to generate electricity, and because methane faces fewer environmental hurdles than coal, gas is increasingly coming into favor for power plants.

Governor Matt Mead and others are hoping to open up west coast ports to export coal to Asian countries, but it's not clear at this point when or if those efforts will bear fruit.