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.

Ways to Connect

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This month, global leaders are gathered in Paris to make a plan to combat climate change. There is broad scientific consensus that climate change is real, serious and caused by humans—but political consensus in this country has been elusive, often clouded by doubt. Over the years, climate denial arguments have changed, but the result has stayed the same: blocking action on climate change.

As an energy reporter in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state, it’s not uncommon for me to hear climate change denial. For example:

Stephanie Joyce

    

The Wyoming Supreme Court has decided an oil and gas company is liable for paying royalties and the costs of cleanup even though it sold its wells.

Pennaco Energy, a subsidiary of Marathon Oil, had sold its coal-bed methane wells in the Powder River Basin to High Plains Gas. High Plains subsequently went out of business without paying surface owners any royalties and without cleaning up the wells.

Energy Information Administration

Wyoming's total carbon emissions are on the rise, even as the state's per-capita emissions have fallen.

Wyoming’s falling per-capita emissions followed the national trend from 2005 to 2013. Forty-eight states’ per-capita emissions fell, while just three rose, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Stephanie Joyce

There are few places where the connection between energy and food is more obvious than at the Bright Agrotech warehouse in Laramie, Wyoming.

Most of the building is filled floor to ceiling with giant shelves of cardboard boxes and tubing—equipment Bright Agrotech sells to farmers—but in one corner of the warehouse, there’s a small farm: rows and rows of greens and herbs, growing in white vertical towers under dozens of bright LEDs. The hum of electricity is palpable.

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing changes to its rules for burning or “flaring” natural gas. 

Natural gas is a byproduct of drilling for oil, but when there aren't nearby pipelines or processing facilities to take the gas, companies often burn it for a period of time.

Environmental groups say flaring wastes a valuable, non-renewable resource and creates air quality problems for nearby residents.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is once again considering a proposal to dispose of oil and gas wastewater in the Madison aquifer in Fremont County.

The proposal would allow waste from the Moneta Divide project to be injected into a 15,000 foot aquifer. Encana originally petitioned for the aquifer exemption back in 2013. Aethon Energy has since purchased the field.

The water in the aquifer is considered to be good quality, but the company has argued that because it is so deep, it won’t ever be used as a drinking water source.

  

The New York attorney general and Peabody Energy have come to an agreement over the company’s disclosures related to climate change.

The attorney general’s office launched the investigation in 2007. Over the weekend, the office agreed to drop the investigation if Peabody includes certain disclosures about the risks of climate change in its future filings with regulators.

archcoal.com

After reporting a $2 billion loss in the third quarter, Arch Coal says it could declare bankruptcy in "the near term."

Photo by Henry Patton, Flickr Creative Commons

If the entire Greenland ice cap were to melt, scientists predict sea levels would rise more than 20 feet. Climate change is speeding up melting of the ice sheet, but it’s not clear by how much. The New York Times recently profiled one of the few research projects taking direct measurements to answer that question. One of the researchers is University of Wyoming graduate student Brandon Overstreet.

Amid low prices and weak demand, Peabody Energy has withdrawn an application to lease additional coal on federal land in the Powder River Basin.

Companies nominate coal tracts for leasing and then are invited to bid on them at auction. Peabody expressed interest the Antelope Ridge tracts back in 2011. They contain an estimated one billion tons of coal.

The company withdrew its application last month. The move follows a recent drop-off in federal coal sales in Wyoming—there hasn’t been one since 2012. Arch Coal also pulled one of its applications earlier this year.

True Oil is once again looking to drill exploratory wells in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. The company first proposed drilling the wells in 2012, but never moved forward with the plan.

The wells are proposed for roughly 22 miles northwest of Big Piney. One of them would be on an existing well pad, the other would be on a previously reclaimed well pad. 

Wyoming is considering new rules designed to cut emissions from oil and gas operations in the state, but neither industry nor environmental and health advocacy groups are happy with them.

The rules would require more emissions controls on tank batteries and during the drilling process, but the proposal doesn’t require companies to look regularly for leaking equipment.

The Joint Minerals committee shot down a draft bill Friday that would have required legislative approval for state agencies to comply with the Obama administration’s signature climate change law. 

The Clean Power Plan requires states make significant cuts in carbon emissions from power plants. Wyoming has a targeted reduction of 44 percent.

Representative Norine Kasperik (R-Gillette) drafted the bill. 

"I don't think the stakes could be higher for Wyoming," she said. 

Stephanie Joyce

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality says it will not meet with a landowners group that is concerned about Alpha Natural Resources' request to renew one of its mining permits.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council objected to Alpha’s application to renew its permit for the Eagle Butte mine near Gillette. The group says the permit cannot be renewed under state law because Alpha doesn’t have required reclamation bonding to cover clean-up costs. Under federal law, anyone with an objection to a mining permit is entitled to some sort of hearing.

Stephanie Joyce

Attorneys general from 24 states, including Wyoming, filed suit Friday morning over the Obama administration’s signature climate change rule.

The rule requires states make big cuts in carbon emissions from power plants. For places like Wyoming, which both produces and consumes huge amounts of coal, that is going to be difficult.

The attorneys general filing the suit say the Environmental Protection Agency has overstepped its authority with the rule. They’re asking for the court to overturn it, and also halt its implementation until the case is resolved.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

How much coal does a Wyoming coal miner mine? Quite a bit less than he used to, it turns out.

Regulations have received most of the blame for coal’s current downturn but that’s not the whole story; it’s also getting more expensive to mine in the nation’s largest coal producing state.

For the past few months, Cloud Peak Energy, one of the biggest coal miners in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, has been in the process of moving a giant machine called a dragline from one mine to another.

XPRIZE

As we have reported recently, Wyoming has started looking for new ways to use coal, beyond simply burning it for power. The state is also starting to look at new ways to use a coal byproduct that has become a serious liability: carbon dioxide. The recently announced $20 million Carbon XPrize is intended to spur innovators to address that very problem. Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce sat down with Paul Bunje of the XPrize Foundation to learn more.

Stephanie Joyce

Creating a regional electricity grid would save money and allow for integration of more renewables, according to a new report.

 

Earlier this year, PacifiCorp, which provides electricity to a handful of western states like Wyoming, Utah and Oregon, announced that it was looking at merging its grid with California’s. Now, the company has come out with a report showing that could result in savings for the whole region.

 

Duncan Harris, Flickr Creative Commons

“Coal keeps the lights on” is a popular refrain in Wyoming, and historically, it’s been true. But the Director of the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources says going forward, that may not be the case. 

The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan calls for cutting carbon emissions from the power sector 30 percent by 2030.

Mark Northam says he believes it is technically feasible for Wyoming to achieve its required cuts, using a combination of natural gas and renewables.

“It’s doable. Whether it’s economically doable or not is another question,” he said.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

After holding a number of meetings to gather public input on an energy strategy for Wyoming, the Governor’s office is now asking people to vote on how to move forward.

The Governor released his first energy strategy in 2013. The administration says it has completed most of the initiatives identified in that document, which is why it’s now looking at a new set.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

A federal judge in Wyoming has temporarily blocked implementation of new rules governing fracking on federal lands.

The new rules would require the disclosure of fracking chemicals and more mechanical integrity testing for wells, among other things. But U.S. District Court judge Scott Skavdahl argues in the injunction that federal agencies cannot regulate fracking.

philipwarburg.com

  

In recent years, solar energy has gone from the fringe to mainstream. Solar costs have dropped dramatically while solar installations have similarly increased. Solar still provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s power, and in states like Wyoming, it’s virtually nonexistent. But many predict solar power will play a much larger role in the future.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

Driving around the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming with Jeff Gillum and Jeff Campbell is like playing an extended game of “Where’s Waldo?”

Where most people would see a yard full of heavy machinery or an unassuming patch of prairie, Campbell and Gillum are constantly spotting coal bed methane wells. They point out the signature tan well houses everywhere as we drive around Gillette: in people’s front yards, in a storage company’s parking lot, even at the end of the driving range at the golf course.

Wyoming Department of Workforce Services

Wyoming saw a large year-over-year increase in worker deaths in 2014. Thirty-seven workers died on the job last year, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s up from 26 in 2013, and is also higher than the three-year average.

The numbers are preliminary, so the Bureau did not calculate fatality rates that could be used to compare Wyoming to other states.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

As the list of orphaned wells in Wyoming continues to grow, state regulators are looking to strengthen oil and gas bonding requirements.

Oil and gas companies are required to post bonds before they begin drilling, in order to ensure compliance with regulations during drilling and cleanup. But current bonding requirements have been criticized for failing to discourage abandonment, and for not being sufficient to cover the costs of plugging orphaned wells.

Wyoming Workforce Services

A change in reporting requirements means Wyoming employers will have to notify the state’s workplace safety regulators after the hospitalization of any worker.

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services is currently only notified about fatalities and catastrophes—incidents when three or more workers are hospitalized—but new rules from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration now require employers to report when anyone gets hurt on the job and lands in the hospital.

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