Stephanie Joyce

Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Phone: 307-766-0809
Email: sjoyce3@uwyo.edu

Stephanie Joyce reports on energy and natural resources for Wyoming Public Radio. Before joining WPR, she was the news director at a public radio station in the Aleutian Islands, where she covered oil, fish and sometimes pirates. She's also an alumni of the Metcalf Institute Science Reporting Fellowship. When not reporting, she's listening to public radio, often while running or skiing.

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Ultra Petroleum filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy Friday evening, after warning it was likely headed toward bankruptcy in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company is Wyoming's largest gas producer, by volume, but has struggled with high debt loads and low natural gas prices in recent months. In April, Wyoming's benchmark natural gas price was just $1.71 per thousand cubic feet, compared to $2.32 at the same time last year. 

Wyoming’s largest gas producer said Friday it may file for bankruptcy.

Ultra Petroleum disclosed the possibility of bankruptcy in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Ultra has substantial debts from large purchases of oil and gas reserves in recent years and is struggling to pay back those debts with current low natural gas and crude oil prices.

Wyoming Business Council

Officials broke ground Wednesday on a new facility that will house carbon conversion experiments. The Integrated Test Center or ITC will be attached to the coal-fired Dry Fork power plant near Gillette. 

The first tenants will be teams competing for the $20 million Carbon XPrize, a competition to turn carbon dioxide emissions into useful products.

“What you’re going to see is the nexus, the very kernel of what I anticipate will be a multi-billion dollar a year industry,” said Paul Bunje, with the XPrize Foundation.

The State of Wyoming is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reconsider its rejection of an Oregon project that would export liquefied natural gas.

FERC rejected the Jordan Cove permit application in March because the project’s backers didn’t have any confirmed buyers for the LNG. The project would require running a new, 230-mile pipeline across Oregon and the Commission said without buyers, the harm to landowners couldn’t be justified.

Leigh Paterson

A new analysis by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates the Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind project would kill 10 to 14 golden eagles a year, if built. The proposed project south of Rawlins would be the largest onshore wind farm in North America, sending power to up to a million homes in California. 

Taylor Brorby and Ice Cube Press

Fracking: the technique for boosting oil and gas production has been around for decades, but chances are you didn’t hear about it until recently. In just a few short years, the fracking boom has transformed communities across the country… and elicited plenty of emotions from all sides. Fracture is a new book of essays, poems and short fiction on the topic of fracking.

Wikipedia Creative Commons

What does bankruptcy actually mean on the ground?

For now, not very much. In Chapter 11 bankruptcy a company reorganizes but doesn’t shut down. In a statement, Peabody said it plans to continue operating its mines as usual while it restructures.

GOOGLE EARTH

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday. The filing comes on the heels of several other bankruptcy declarations from major coal companies, including Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources.

KQED

 

Solar energy records are falling left and right in California these days, as the state steams ahead toward its ambitious renewable energy goals.

But the success of solar has brought about a hidden downside: on some perfectly sunny days, solar farms are being told to turn off.

That’s because in the spring and fall, when Californians aren’t using much air conditioning and demand for electricity is low, the surge of midday solar power is more than the state can use.

Peabody Energy / Wikimedia Commons

Last Friday, anyone driving past the Holiday Inn Express in Douglas, Wyoming, might have remarked on the large number of American-made pickup trucks in the parking lot. If they stuck around for a while, they would have seen that most of those pickup trucks belonged to stoney-faced men, who emerged from the hotel one-by-one, clutching blue folders.

“They put us all in one room and they told us all they were sorry, it was a layoff,” Kyle Christiansen recounted.

Stephanie Joyce

Wyoming needs to start planning for a lower-carbon future, according to panelists at a University of Wyoming discussion about the Clean Power Plan, an Obama administration rule that would cut carbon emissions from power plants.

The panel of coal and utility industry representatives and academics was largely critical of the rule, calling it a clumsy vehicle for carbon reduction. But at the same time, the panelists all agreed that with or without the rule, carbon reduction will happen. 

Wyoming Workforce Services

In the wake of layoffs at Wyoming’s two largest coal mines, the state has set up resource centers in Douglas, Gillette and Casper where laid-off workers can get help from state agencies.

Peabody Energy and Arch Coal announced Thursday they are each cutting 15 percent of their workforce, about 500 total jobs, at the North Antelope Rochelle and Black Thunder mines. 

GOOGLE EARTH

The country's two largest coal mines are each laying off roughly 15 percent of their employees. Peabody Energy and Arch Coal both announced the layoffs Thursday morning. The cuts will affect roughly 235 workers at Peabody’s North Antelope Rochelle mine and 230 at Arch's Black Thunder mine.

The layoffs are the first major cuts in Wyoming, which had, until now, avoided the job losses that have affected Appalachia.

Peabody Energy / Wikimedia Commons

Responding to a federal inquiry, the State of Wyoming defended itself against accusations that it is allowing coal giant Peabody Energy to continue operating in violation of mining regulations.

Hydraulic fracturing or fracking has contaminated water resources in the Pavillion area, according to a new study from Stanford University. Dominic DiGiulio, the lead author of the study, also wrote the 2011 Environmental Protection Agency draft report that first linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Pavillion area.

In a December report, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality concluded that fracking is likely not to blame for water problems in the Pavillion area. The Environmental Protection Agency, in public comments on the report, questions that conclusion.

EIA

The ratings agency Standard and Poor's has dropped its credit rating for coal giant Peabody Energy to the lowest possible level, after the company failed to make a major interest payment last week.

Peabody has said it is in talks with its creditors and hopes to restructure its debt, but Standard and Poor's writes that it doesn't see a sustainable future for Peabody absent "comprehensive restructuring." In other words: bankruptcy.

In 2016, for the first time ever, natural gas could overtake coal as the main source of electricity in the U.S.

A decade ago, coal accounted for almost 50 percent of electricity generated in the U.S. but in 2015, it was down to 33 percent. The dramatic decline has been fueled largely by utilities switching from coal to natural gas, as gas prices have fallen in recent years because of the fracking boom.

Now, the Energy Information Administration is predicting that in 2016, natural gas will surpass coal as the country’s leading power source, although only by a narrow margin.

Federal regulators have rejected a proposed pipeline that would have carried Wyoming and Colorado gas to an export terminal in Oregon. The 230-mile Pacific Connector pipeline would have linked an existing pipeline to the proposed Jordan Cove terminal, where the gas would have been liquefied and loaded onto ships bound for Asia.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission found the public benefits of the project did not justify the potential negative impacts on landowners whose properties the pipeline would cross.

For the first time in at least three decades, the number of rigs drilling for gas in the U.S. has dropped below 100.

As of Friday, there were just 97 natural gas rigs operating in the U.S., including nine in Wyoming. The number of rigs has been falling since 2008, when it reached a high of more than 1600.

But despite the falling rig count, production has continued to climb. The U.S. produced more natural gas in 2015 than ever before.

Stephanie Joyce

  

Historically, electricity pricing has been relatively straightforward: the more you use, the more you pay. But today, that simple equation is not so simple. Increasingly, the time of day when you use electricity factors into the cost as well. It’s called time-of-use pricing, and while it can save money and energy, it’s not always popular.

Peabody Energy / Wikimedia Commons

Peabody Energy, one of Wyoming’s largest coal producers, appears to be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy.

With Industry In Turmoil, Energy Players Meet In Houston

Feb 26, 2016
IHS Energy/CERAWeek

  

The energy industry is in turmoil. Coal and oil prices are way down, there are big changes to environmental regulations in the works, and more and more renewables are coming online. Some of the biggest players in the industry met at a conference in Houston this week to weigh in on what it all means. Inside Energy reporter Jordan Wirfs-Brock was at IHS CERAWeek. She spoke to Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce from the conference about the biggest issues on the table for the energy industry.  

TRANSCRIPT:

Emily Guerin / Inside Energy

BNSF Railway has agreed to pay $600,000 to settle alleged environmental violations in Wyoming, Colorado and North Dakota.

The settlement covers several oil spills as well as compliance violations. The largest spill was in 2010, when a train derailed and leaked 7,400 gallons of diesel into the Wind River in central Wyoming. The other violations also involved trains spilling diesel into various bodies of water.

“The fine is a deterrent, to say ‘don’t do this again,’” said Donna Inman, a compliance and enforcement officer with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earthworks

The oil and gas industry may be emitting more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than previously thought, according to new estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Methane can leak from wells, pipelines and compressor stations, among other things.

At an energy conference in Houston, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said the administration is not planning to turn a blind eye to the oil and gas industry's increased contributions.

"The data confirm that we can and must do more on methane reductions in the oil and gas sector," she said. 

Recent coal company bankruptcies pose a significant risk to taxpayers, the Secretary of the Interior told a U.S. Senate committee Tuesday.

Some of the largest coal companies in the country were never required to put up cash or obtain third-party insurance to cover their reclamation costs.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said the federal government is concerned there is little cleanup money set aside as the coal industry slides deeper into financial trouble.

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