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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A Legislative Committee had lots of questions during its meeting this week for Linc Energy. That company has plans for an underground coal gasification test project near the town of Wright. If it moves forward, it would be the first such project in the United States in decades. 

Many of the legislators’ questions echoed those that have been raised before, from the impacts of the process on water quality to the possibility of sinkholes.

Wikimedia Commons

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission introduced a rule this week designed to head off conflict between landowners and companies as drilling activity moves into populated areas of the state. But so far, reaction to the proposal has been less-than-positive. Wyoming Public Radio’s energy reporter, Stephanie Joyce, joins Bob Beck to talk about what’s been proposed and why landowners aren’t happy with it.

Bob Beck: At the center of this debate are something called “setbacks” – what is a setback and why is it so important?

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gave a company permission to continue burning off large volumes of natural gas from its oil wells in Laramie County this week, but not before expressing its disapproval. Cirque Resources asked the Commission for permission to continue flaring more than 1.4 million cubic feet of natural gas per day -- enough to heat more than 7000 homes.

NETL/DOE

A deeply in-debt company that wanted to revive the coal bed methane industry in Wyoming had its wells seized by the state Tuesday after failing to post an overdue reclamation bond. The seizure follows years of back and forth with High Plains Gas. Wells that aren’t producing need to be bonded, in order to cover the cost of reclamation and High Plains owed almost $7 million.

Stephanie Joyce

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has proposed increasing the buffer, or “setback,” between oil and gas wells and places like schools, hospitals and homes.

The current setback distance is 350 feet. Under the proposal that would increase to 500 feet. Companies would also have to comply with a new requirement to notify people living within 1000 feet of a well of any planned drilling activity and come up with a plan to mitigate potential impacts.

Wikipedia

A number of migrating horned grebes found themselves grounded in southwestern Wyoming last week. The small waterbirds spend summers in Canada and Alaska and winters in the southeastern United States, but a handful of them almost didn’t make it this year, after they ended up stranded on lawns, tennis courts and streets in Green River. As Green River Game and Fish office manager Regina Dickson explained, the birds can only take off from water.

Stephanie Joyce

Low Gas Prices Double-Edge Sword For Wyoming

It’s lunchtime in Douglas, Wyoming and the line of cars at the McDonald’s drive-thru wraps around the building. A hiring poster hangs in the window and the parking lot is full. Leaning out the window of his black pick-up truck, Troy Hilbish says he had no idea oil prices have fallen more than a quarter in recent months. But he knows what falling oil prices mean.

Stephanie Joyce

It’s lunchtime in Douglas, Wyoming and the line of cars at the McDonald’s drive-thru wraps around the building. A hiring poster hangs in the window and the parking lot is full. Leaning out the window of his black pick-up truck, Troy Hilbish says he had no idea oil prices have fallen more than a quarter in recent months. But he knows what falling oil prices mean. 

“If the oil prices go up, we drill more," he says. "If they go down, we don't drill as much.”

Famartin / Wikimedia Commons

A reclamation expert with Cloud Peak Energy is hoping techniques developed at one of the company’s Powder River Basin coal mines can be applied across the West. Kyle Wendtland helped develop a strategy to combat cheatgrass, an invasive species that’s bad for grazing. It’s become a major problem in the West, with more than 50 million acres affected. Currently, the most common method for removing it is to apply herbicides. Cloud Peak’s approach removes the weed mechanically and then reseeds the area with native grasses. Wendtland says it’s cutting-edge.

Stephanie Joyce

Coal may be king in Wyoming, but oil is making steady inroads.The state budget forecast, released last last month, shows that last year, for the first time in decades, oil accounted for a larger share of state severance tax revenues than coal. Wyoming Department of Revenue Director Dan Noble says it will likely overtake natural gas in the coming year as well. “Oil is the new big game in town,” he said.

Ramaco LLC

While coal mines are being shuttered in the east, there’s a new mine being proposed for Wyoming. The company Ramaco has submitted an application for a mining permit to the Department of Environmental Quality. The mine would be just north of Sheridan and would produce up to 8 million tons of coal a year. Ramaco CEO Randall Atkins says he expects the mine to be profitable despite tough market conditions in part because it’s on private land, unlike most of the region’s coal mines.

Angus Thuermer / WyoFile

Voters roundly defeated a proposed Constitutional Amendment that would have allowed non-residents to serve on the University of Wyoming’s Board of Trustees.

The Wyoming Constitution specifies that anyone serving on the Board of Trustees should be eligible to vote in the state. The amendment would have allowed the Governor to appoint up to two non-residents to the 13-person Board. 

Holly Frontier

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined a Cheyenne refinery $153,000 for allegedly violating several federal regulations. The EPA alleges that Frontier Refining wasn’t properly training its employees in safety practices and that it misreported or didn’t report the presence of certain toxic chemicals on-site. David Cobb works with the EPA’s enforcement office. He says that’s important information.

Stephanie Joyce

Wind power is a growing part of the energy mix in the United States. And along with that growth, there are new job opportunities for people to install and repair the 30-story-tall wind turbines. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, a unique skill set is required -- the fearlessness of a pro rock climber along with the know-how of a skilled mechanic.

A Laramie company is testing a device that could help cut the cost of producing shale oil. WellDog announced this month that it’s doing field testing of what’s called a “Raman spectrometer.” The device can help pinpoint oil and gas reservoirs thousands of feet underground. WellDog CEO John Pope says right now, hydraulic fracturing or fracking doesn’t work thirty to fifty percent of the time, but that this technology could dramatically improve that.

Rebecca Martinez / Wyoming Public Media

Lifting the ban on crude oil exports would lead to lower gas prices and more oil production in the US, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office.

US oil exports were banned after the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s. With increasing domestic oil production, industry has said the ban is outdated and has been asking Congress to lift it. University of Wyoming economics professor Charles Mason says especially with falling global oil prices, that would help Wyoming producers.

A miner was killed at Peabody Energy's North Antelope Rochelle coal mine in the Powder River Basin over the weekend, according to the Mine Safety and Health Administration. The Gillette News Record reports that Darwin Lee Reimer, 51, was driving a haul truck when it went over a highwall. 

There’s disagreement over whether industry should pay for the state to take over regulation of uranium mining. The Legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee reviewed a draft bill Thursday that would start the transfer of regulatory power from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. 

Scott Sandberg / NOAA

Ozone pollution has been a problem in western Wyoming for years because of oil and gas development, but the chemistry behind it has been a mystery, until now.

A study published this month in the journal Nature looks at how wintertime ozone pollution in rural areas with oil and gas development is chemically different from summertime ozone pollution in big cities. In the Uinta Basin in Utah the researchers found levels of the two main components of ozone were opposite of what they would be in cities.

Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile

Every day, more than 2 billion gallons of water are produced in the U.S. by the oil and gas industry. The water comes up with the oil and gas, and can contain hydrocarbons like benzene and toluene as well as the chemicals that are injected into the well to produce the oil and gas. But the federal government doesn’t treat waste from the energy industry as hazardous, and much of that polluted wastewater is allowed to simply evaporate. That, as others have reported, could could be a problem.

Ambre Energy

Oregon has shut down Wyoming’s attempt to force the permitting of a coal export terminal in that state.

The Oregon Department of State Lands rejected Ambre Energy’s application for a permit to build a coal transfer terminal in August, citing concerns about the impact on nearby tribal fisheries. The terminal would allow Powder River Basin coal to be shipped to Asia.

biorootenergy.com

Forests affected by the bark beetle epidemic are just as capable of recovering from wildfire as unaffected forests, according to new research from the University of Wisconsin. Brian Harvey, one of the co-authors of the paper, said they looked at areas throughout the Northern Rockies in various stages of tree death.

Jack Holt / AP Photo/Kemmerer Gazette

A worker has died after an explosion at a natural gas storage tank in western Wyoming. Jared Loftiss, 35, of Marbleton, Wyoming was working for Hughes Enterprises, an oilfield services company based out of Marbleton.

Bob Beck

Wyoming Lawmakers Battle The Feds Over Water

There's a water war going on in the nation's capital that has Wyoming lawmakers and land owners worried the federal government is soon going to be regulating most every drop of water that falls from the sky.

37-Year Lawsuit Settles Issue Of Tribal Water Rights

Blastcube

This week, Wyoming Public Radio aired a series of stories on workplace fatalities in the oil and gas industry. The series looked North Dakota’s high oil and gas fatality rate, Wyoming’s response to its own rising death toll, and whether there are lessons to be learned from the commercial fishing industry in Alaska, which has cut fatalities in half in the last decade. Emily Guerin of Prairie Public Radio and Stephanie Joyce of Wyoming Public Radio share some of their takeaways after reporting the series.

Stephanie Joyce

The red smokestacks of the Comanche power plant outside of Pueblo, Colorado can be seen from miles away. The plant supplies power to communities along the Front Range, including Denver, and consumes hundreds of tons of coal an hour in the process. That coal arrives in mile-long trains from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and is stockpiled at the plant. Normally, that pile would be a hundred feet tall, according to Xcel Energy fuel supply manager Craig Romer. But right now, it’s less than a third of that.

Lauren Rosenthal / KUCB

Click here to read Part 3 of the Dark Side Of The Boom series.

The dangers of the Bering Sea crab fishery have been made famous by the reality TV show Deadliest Catch. But, in the last 15 years, that industry has become much safer, in large part thanks to collaboration between industry, scientists and regulators. We wondered: are there lessons that the oil and gas industry could learn from the crab industry’s safety gains?

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