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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Credit Wyoming Associated Press

Wyoming regulators recorded hundreds of spills by the oil and gas industry last year, but issued just a handful of fines. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, that’s actually not unusual.

STEPHANIE JOYCE: ‘Genie McMullan knows when there’s been an oil spill from the production wells on her goat farm in the Big Horn Basin.

'GENIE McMULLAN: When there’s a spill there’s a sharp smell, it’s a burning smell to my senses, my nose, my eyes, my lungs.

Regulation has been a hot-button topic when it comes to worker safety in Wyoming over the last few years. Despite pressure from worker advocacy groups, legislators have been reluctant to write new laws tackling workplace injuries and fatalities, instead opting for an incentives-based approach.

Dr. Mack Sewell is the state’s occupational epidemiologist. He’s been on the job for about a year and a half, and he recently spoke with Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce about his latest report on workplace accidents, released in November, and how the state should move forward.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel stopped in Cheyenne Thursday on a rare tour of nuclear missile bases in the West. Speaking to troops at the F.E. Warren Air Force base, Hagel said the Obama administration is committed to maintaining U.S. nuclear capabilities, but he remained vague on potential changes to the intercontinental ballistic missile program.  

Despite recent accidents with shipment of crude oil by rail, including a derailment and explosion in North Dakota on Monday, industry analysts say it will continue to be a popular mode of moving oil out of the Bakken.

Trisha Curtis is with the Energy Policy Research Foundation. She says most crude from the Bakken does not travel through Wyoming, but that the state could see a spike in crude-by-rail traffic with new rail loading facilities coming online in the next year.

Despite recording more than 500 spills, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission levied no fines for unauthorized releases in 2013.

Natural resources program supervisor Tom Kropatsch says that figure includes all releases -- whether of oil, natural gas, produced water or drilling mud.

“In 2010 we actually reduced the volume requirements on reportable spills to us. So, we see a lot more, as far as numbers of spills now than we did several years ago, just because we changed the requirement on volume.”

Coal dust emissions from trains could be cut following a recent ruling by the federal Surface Transportation Board. The Board ruled earlier this month that rail companies can require use of dust suppressants or ‘toppers’ on coal cars.

BNSF was one of the companies pushing for the rule. Spokeswoman Courtney Wallace says coal dust has been shown to foul the tracks and lead to accidents.

The federal government released a new plan for managing sage grouse habitat in Wyoming on Friday. The Bureau of Land Management says the plan will allow for consistent policies across federal and state lands, while protecting the bird from an endangered species listing.

A Christmas Day fire at a natural gas compressor station south of Riverton sent one worker to the hospital.

The East Alkali Butte station belongs to Texas-based Legacy Reserves. The company’s safety coordinator, Randy Williams, says the injured worker was a contractor. He was flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City for treatment.

Fremont County Fire Protection deputy chief Dan Oakley says by the time the department got on scene, the fire had been mostly extinguished. He says the building was still standing, but that the windows and doors had been blown out.

Ozone forecasting in Sublette County will begin again in January. Ozone is a hazardous gas that’s formed under certain conditions by the combination of volatile organic compounds and nitrous oxides. In recent years Sublette County has seen spikes in ozone during wintertime, particularly on days with no wind, lots of sunlight and snow on the ground.

The Governor’s new Forest Health Task Force met for the first time last week, and faced some challenges right off the bat -- namely, defining what forest health means.

Jessica Crowder is with the governor’s policy office. She says the 19-person group struggled to come to an agreement on the subject.

“There’s a lot of different viewpoints on what a healthy forest actually looks like, and how you actually get there," Crowder says. "What we found is that the term ‘forest health’ is a very value-laden term.”

UW Interim President prepares for the Legislative Session

Following the resignation of Bob Sternberg, Dick McGinity has taken over reins at the University of Wyoming as Interim President.  McGinity was simply a faculty member at UW until Sternberg promoted him to be part of the administration and now he’s running the show.  Among his first duties is getting UW priorities through the legislature.  He tells Bob Beck that includes pay raises.

Skiing has been a popular pastime in the West for decades, but with climate change, the future of the sport is in question.

Porter Fox is the features editor at Powder magazine and the author of DEEP: The Story of Skiing and the Future of Snow. Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce spoke with Fox about his new book, and what’s in store for Wyoming.

Alexandra Gutierrez

This holiday season, the Wyoming Public Radio news team is sharing stories about  memories and traditions that stand out to them. In this piece, energy reporter Stephanie Joyce tells us about overcoming the challenge of spending Christmas on a treeless island in Alaska.

Around the country, families spend their December nights trekking to nearby forests or tree farms to cut down big, bushy evergreens for their living rooms, and pulling out Christmas decorations to adorn their branches. Houses fill up with the tangy smell of sap and the sharp bite of pine needles.

It could be another three years before construction begins on a coal-to-liquid fuel facility in Medicine Bow -- if it begins at all.

DKRW has struggled with financing for the $2 billion project since it was first permitted in 2008.

On Wednesday, the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council granted DKRW a 30-month extension on its construction permits. That’s the third time the company has been granted an extension, but this one comes with a special caveat. If the company doesn’t start building the conversion facility by the end of that period, it’s agreed to give up its permit.

The resource curse is real -- and discernible even at the county level -- according to a new study from the non-profit research group Headwater Economics.

Researchers looked at more than 200 counties across six western states, and found that those with above-average oil and gas development over a long period of time had lower per capita incomes, less educational attainment and higher crime rates.

The federal government is predicting that despite a recent uptick in consumption, coal will lose its dominance of the electricity market by 2030.

Natural gas will slowly edge out coal as the country’s leading source of electricity generation, according to the Energy Information Administration’s latest forecast.

In a press conference announcing the outlook, Coal and Electric Power Division Director Alan Beamon said coal is expected to make a rebound in the short-term, but that it won’t last.

The legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee is mostly onboard with a new plan to plug abandoned oil and gas wells in the state. The committee discussed the Governor’s plan at a meeting on Thursday. Senator Chris Rothfuss says while the committee had questions about some of the details, like the cost and timeline, there was a general agreement that the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should move forward with the plugging.

Another proposed coal export terminal has folded. Ambre Energy is asking to be let out of a lease agreement with the Port of Corpus Christi, saying that shipping Powder River Basin coal out of Texas is no longer viable.

The company had planned to ship 1.5 - 2.5 million tons of coal out of the facility every year. Its decision to pull out is latest in a string of roughly half a dozen planned terminals that have been tabled or scrapped in the last year.

According to new estimates from the Governor’s office, plugging abandoned oil and gas wells in Wyoming could cost anywhere from $8 to $32 million.

The smaller figure takes into account only wells that the state knows are abandoned. The larger one includes wells owned by bankrupt methane farming company Luca Technologies and the 2300 wells the state considers ‘at risk’ for abandonment.

That number of 'at risk' wells is twice previous estimates. The Governor's policy director, Shawn Reese, says the discrepancy can be traced back to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Over the objections of environmental groups, the federal government agreed Friday to issue eagle-take permits to wind companies for 30 years, instead of five. The permits allow companies to kill a certain number of eagles without penalty, while requiring additional mitigation and conservation measures.

Industry lobbied for the change, saying that the short permits left too much uncertainty when planning major projects.

Cool Planet Energy Systems

More than 40 million acres of trees have been killed by bark beetles in the Rocky Mountain West over the last two decades. Those trees are an eyesore, and as we heard in the last story, a source of carbon dioxide. But a new project is trying to find an upside to the epidemic. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has given researchers at five western universities, including the University of Wyoming, $10 million to see if those dead trees can be converted into gasoline.

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission conditionally approved a request from Idaho Power to upgrade the Jim Bridger Power Plant in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The upgrades will reduce nitrous oxide emissions from the plant, but some environmental groups say the $130 million investment isn’t cost-effective because stricter regulation of coal-fired power is likely in the near future.

The federal government is getting ready to issue its first eagle-take permit for a wind power project in Wyoming. 

Normally, killing eagles is illegal. But the five-year permits allow wind companies to kill a certain number of eagles without penalty.

The Power Company of Wyoming hasn’t actually applied for a permit for its Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind project in Carbon County yet, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has started asking for public input in anticipation that it will.

A smartphone app that’s trying to raise awareness about conflicts between wind turbines and birds saw a spike in downloads after a settlement over eagle deaths at wind farms in Wyoming was announced last week.

The game is called WingWhackers, and the premise is pretty simple. You’re a protected bird of some kind -- an eagle, an owl, a hawk, and you need to make it home with dinner, through a field of spinning wind turbines.

It would cost at least $4.5 million dollars for Wyoming to take over regulatory control of the uranium and thorium mining industries from the federal government, according to a new feasibility study from the Department of Environmental Quality. 

Deputy Director Nancy Nuttbrock says that estimate only takes into account the six years it would take to get the program running -- not it’s actual operations.

Government estimates of methane emissions from the Rocky Mountain region might be low.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that’s produced by agriculture, natural gas drilling and coal mining, among other things. Knowing how much of it is being released is important because of its potential effects on climate.

What if the vast stands of beetle-killed trees in the west could be turned into gasoline? A recently-announced federal project involving several University of Wyoming researchers is trying to answer that question.

Most biofuels are made of crops, like corn and sorghum, but this five-year, $10 million project will study whether dead trees might work just as well -- while avoiding competition with food sources.

Frustrated landowners in Converse County sat down last week with a company that’s proposing to build a natural gas processing facility outside of Douglas to discuss alternative locations for the plant.

Crestwood Midstream Access’ plant would be situated in a largely agricultural area, and nearby ranchers have protested, saying it would be better to group it with existing industrial development. 

But there are no land use regulations in Converse County, so rancher Art Nicholas proposed a trade: a parcel of his land south of the city in exchange for the site.

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