SALT LAKE CITY — A projected 4.5 million tons of Utah coal could be headed to foreign markets after a cooperative energy agreement was inked Thursday between the state of Utah and Mexico's state of Baja California.

The memorandum of understanding signed at the Port of Ensenada follows a series of meetings with top energy officials in Utah and Gov. Gary Herbert's trade mission to Mexico in April.

Carlo Bonfante, secretary of economic development for Baja California, said the memorandum is the foundation for a "close binational collaboration" for the benefit of both parties.

The signing took place at the Port of Ensenada as part of a state energy office visit to explore transport options from the U.S. border in San Diego to the port terminal roughly 65 miles south.

Laura Nelson, Gov. Gary Herbert's energy adviser, left, signs a new energy agreement with Carlo Bonfante, secretary of economic development for Baja California, Mexico, on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018.
Laura Nelson, Gov. Gary Herbert's energy adviser, left, signs a new energy agreement with Carlo Bonfante, secretary of economic development for Baja California, Mexico, on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2018. | Utah Office of Energy Development

The Ensenada port, according to the energy office, is one of the most commercially dynamic exchange locations in the world, with connections to 64 ports in 28 countries. In the coming years, the port is slated to expand to El Sauzal, 5 miles north, creating potential for greater export opportunities for Utah’s commodities.

Utah's production of coal and natural gas is on the uptick. Five coal mines are set to expand, and the state is pursuing a regional coalition dedicated to creating market access for transporting natural gas to Asia.

"This is an exciting time for both Utah and Mexico," said Laura Nelson, the energy adviser for Herbert. "This is not only a great time for Utah energy resources but a great opportunity for tourism in a beautiful part of Mexico."

Nelson said the agreement builds on a joint effort between Colorado and Utah, which are part of the Western States Regional Natural Gas Initiative.

Both states are seeking to develop natural gas resources through additional infrastructure development, Nelson said.

"Infrastructure is a key factor of having natural gas trapped in the West and the inability to move it across the country or even globally."

Under the new memorandum of understanding, Utah and the Baja California offices seek to encourage cooperation across infrastructure development, trade opportunities among regulators and operators, identification of potential global markets, and promotion of visits by government, industry and other specialists.