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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The Department of Energy is closely monitoring the potential for flooding this spring at the site of a former uranium mill on the Wind River Indian Reservation. Tailings from the mill contaminated groundwater in the area decades ago. DOE had planned to let the uranium dissipate naturally over the next century, then flooding in 2010 caused an unexpected spike in contamination levels.

Stephanie Joyce

Uranium producers in Wyoming are optimistic about the future, despite a recent slump in prices. The uranium market tanked after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, with the indefinite shutdown of Japan’s reactors, but speaking during a panel discussion at the Wyoming Energy Summit this week, uranium mining executives like Donna Wichers of Uranium One said while it’s been a setback, it’s just that.

Stephanie Joyce

New regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants are due out at the beginning of next month and industry is warning that they could have a devastating impact on the economy.
 
Speaking at the Wyoming Business Report’s Energy Summit in Casper, Dan Byers, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the cost of the regulations will likely significantly outweigh the climate benefits, pointing out that developing nations are emitting more than ever. Byers says he’s skeptical of how the Environmental Protection Agency will calculate cost-benefit.
 

It’s time to stop looking at carbon as a liability and time to start figuring out ways to turn into an asset, Governor Matt Mead told attendees at the Wyoming Business Report’s Energy Summit Monday. He said carbon capture and utilization technology is not ready for prime-time, but that innovation is possible if the government and others invest in it.

“Everything is crazy until you figure it out. And this issue on coal in particular is an issue that I think we can figure out, and that we need to figure out,” Mead said.

Wyo. Lawmakers Reject New Climate Change Report 

The White House is painting a dire picture for every region in the nation - including here at home - if action isn’t taken to combat climate change. But Matt Laslo reports from Washington that Wyoming’s Republican senators still aren’t buying it.

The newly discovered abundance of domestic oil and gas is creating a shortage of something else: the petroleum engineers who regulate drilling activities. Government petroleum engineers approve companies’ drilling plans and inspect wells after they’re completed to make sure they’re not at risk of contaminating water or blowing out, but as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, there just aren’t enough petroleum engineers to go around.  

Stephanie Joyce

If you were paying close attention during the latest season of Downton Abbey, you might remember this exchange:

PENELOPE WILTON (as Isobel Crawley): Is it really called the Teapot Dome scandal? It seems so unlikely. What’s it about?

MAGGIE SMITH (as Lady Violet Crawley): What’s it always about? Bribery and corruption. Taking money to allow private companies to drill for oil on government land.”

Stephanie Joyce

Governor Matt Mead says it’s time to move past the argument over climate change, and start finding solutions that will allow the continued use of fossil fuels, including coal. Answering questions after a speech at the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority board meeting Wednesday the governor reiterated that he remains skeptical about the science behind climate change, but said that’s besides the point.

The latest proposal for getting coal from the Powder River Basin to world markets involves a port on the west coast of Mexico. According to a report from SNL Financial, a Mexican company is in the process of securing permits for a $700 million export terminal. MEXPORT’s CEO Daniel Suarez told SNL there’s been interest from Powder River Basin coal producers, and if the company is able to raise sufficient capital, it could start exporting by 2017. The company's consultant didn't return calls for comment.

Stephanie Joyce

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission has denied a rulemaking petition from a landowner’s group. The Powder River Basin Resource Council submitted the petition a year ago, asking the Commission to consider new rules for flaring, setbacks -- the distance rig should be from a house -- and violations such as spills. Tuesday, the Commission denied the petition, saying it wants to propose its own rules on those issues, rather than starting with the citizen’s language.

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has a new permanent supervisor. Mark Watson received a unanimous vote from the commissioners.

Watson was a runner-up in the last search for a supervisor and had been serving as the Commission’s interim supervisor after Grant Black’s sudden resignation in March. He's been with the Commission for almost thirty years in various positions, most recently as the principal petroleum engineer.

Wyoming is getting hotter and drier, according to the latest National Climate Assessment. The report says by mid-century, the number of extremely hot days Wyoming experiences will increase considerably.

Mark Shafer is with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey and was one of the lead authors of the report. He said that the impacts will be wide-ranging, from changes in growing seasons to stress on the region’s water supply.

The National Climate Assessment says Wyoming’s energy sector could find itself squeezed for water in the future. Both energy production and generation consume large amounts of water, but changes in precipitation patterns mean there will be less of it to go around. The report points out that across the nation, water shortages already threaten power generation for more than a million homes. That's expected to increase.

Rocky Mountain Power’s Jeff Hymas says climate change is definitely something the utility takes into account when planning for the future.

A program to provide clean water to residents of Pavillion will get underway in the next week. The town has problems with contaminated well water, which some attribute to nearby oil and gas development. An investigation into the source of the contamination is ongoing, but the governor’s natural resources policy advisor, Jerimiah Rieman, says the state felt it had a responsibility to take action -- not only for residents’ health, but also their assets.

Alan Rogers, trib.com

BOB BECK: When a crude oil train derailed and exploded in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia this week, it wasn’t the first or even the second time that’s happened this year. As growing domestic production of oil strains pipeline capacity, railroads have been picking up the slack. Crude-by-rail, as it’s known, has grown 500 percent since 2011. But a recent string of accidents has led to concern about its safety. Wyoming Public Radio energy reporter Stephanie Joyce joins us now to talk about how those concerns are playing out in Wyoming, and what’s being done about them.

Last week, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of fracking chemicals said it would fully disclose the ingredients of its products. But Wyoming’s top oil and gas regulator says until he sees more information from Baker Hughes about the format of its disclosure, it’s hard to say whether it goes far enough to comply with Wyoming’s disclosure laws.

Rachel Anderson

The Williams company is working to get its natural gas processing plant in Opal back up and running after an explosion and fire shut it down last week. The fire burned for five days, finally running out of fuel on Monday afternoon. In a press release, the company said it believes only one of the plant’s four units was damaged in the accident. Two of the units were back online Thursday morning.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration says that Arch Coal could have prevented the August 2013 death of a miner at its Black Thunder facility near Wright.

Jacob Dowdy, 24, was crushed by an out-of-control shovel that rolled backwards over his pick-up truck. MSHA coal mine administrator Kevin Stricklin says if Arch had been following its own safety procedures, Dowdy wouldn’t have been behind the shovel.

Worker safety advocates and family members gathered in Cheyenne Monday morning to commemorate Workers’ Memorial Day. The day remembers those who have been killed or injured while on the job. 

Dan Neal with the Equality State Policy Center organized the event.

Started it by ringing a bell 35 separate times to remember the 35 workers who died on the job in Wyoming in 2012.”

David Koch

Bark beetles have ravaged western forests in recent years, leaving behind huge swaths of dead trees.

In a series of ten short films premiering in Wyoming this week, the Forest Service and the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute have teamed up to spotlight some of the impacts of the outbreak, and the ways managers are responding to it. The Institute’s Emilene Ostlind says the series covers everything from bark beetles’ effect on Cheyenne’s water supply to how beetle kill is turned into lumber to her personal favorite, which focuses on researchers at the university.

Stephanie Joyce

Millions of railcars leave the Powder River Basin every year, carrying hundreds of millions of tons of coal. Those are big numbers, but the coal we mine is just a small fraction of what’s underground. Most of the basin’s coal reserves are buried too deep for conventional mining.

An Australian company called Linc Energy wants to use a technology known as underground coal gasification to tap those deep coal reserves and turn them into fuel. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, that might come at the peril of another valuable resource: water.

In the latest sign of a shaky future for the nation’s first coal-to-gas conversion plant, one of the project’s major investors has written it off as a loss. Ben Storrow of the Casper Star-Tribune has been following the development and spoke with Wyoming Public Radio energy reporter Stephanie Joyce about what it means for the future of the project.

 

STEPHANIE JOYCE: So, to start, for any of our listeners who might be at little fuzzy on the details of the DKRW Advanced Fuels project, can you give us the 30-second overview of its history?

One of the country’s largest suppliers of hydraulic fracturing chemicals says going forward, it will fully disclose the ingredients that make up those chemicals and their maximum concentrations in the frac fluid.

The state has requested information from Australian regulators about alleged environmental crimes by Linc Energy. The company operates an underground coal gasification project in Australia and wants to the do the same here in Wyoming.

Rachel Anderson

UPDATE 04/24 12:45pm: The evacuation order has been lifted, residents are being allowed to return to their homes. 

Original story:

An evacuation order remains in effect for residents of Opal after an explosion at a nearby natural gas processing plant Wednesday night.

A town in southwest Wyoming has been evacuated after an explosion at a nearby natural gas processing plant. The explosion at the Williams plant near Opal happened around 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Lincoln County Emergency Management spokesman Stephen Malik said that as of 4 p.m. there was still an ongoing fire, but that gas has been shut off to the facility. In addition to the evacuation of Opal's hundred residents, highways 30 and 284 between Opal and Kemmerer have been shut down.

Arch Coal executives expressed frustration with the nation’s two biggest railroads during a conference call with investors Tuesday. Coal shipments out of the Powder River Basin have been delayed in recent months because of congestion on the BNSF and Union Pacific main lines. Arch Coal CEO John Eaves said it’s hurting the company’s earnings.

The first rare earth minerals mine to open in the U.S. in decades could be here in Wyoming. Permitting gets underway this week for the Bear Lodge mine, near Sundance. Rare earths are a group of metals that are critical to high tech devices like smartphones and lasers. They’re currently mined almost exclusively in China. Rare Element Resources’ George Byers says the company is hoping to change that.

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