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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Right before the close of the session, the Wyoming Legislature slipped a small amendment into the budget bill that’s proving to have some big implications.

The footnote prohibits the State Board of Education from considering a set of national science education standards that it had been reviewing for more than a year, and as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, it raises questions about whose role it is to establish those standards.

Halliburton found itself in the spotlight Thursday after asking a reporter at the Casper Star-Tribune to sign a release promising any coverage wouldn’t portray the company in a negative light.

Right before the close of the session, the Wyoming Legislature slipped a small amendment into the budget bill that’s proving to have some big implications. The footnote prohibits the State Board of Education from considering a set of national science education standards that it had been reviewing for more than a year, and as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, it raises questions about whose role it is to establish those standards.

The country’s largest scientific society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is launching a public awareness campaign about climate change.

tiny footnote in Wyoming’s budget bill is causing a big stir. The state’s science education standards are due for an overhaul, and the Board of Education had been considering a set of national standards called the Next Generation Science Standards to replace them.

Environmental and landowner groups are celebrating after the Wyoming Supreme Court found a lower court had ruled in error regarding disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking.

Shell

The crisis in Ukraine has rekindled calls for the US to export more of its newfound glut of natural gas overseas, but not everyone thinks that’s a good idea.

In recent days a number of Congressmen, including Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, have called for the Department of Energy to expedite its approval of natural gas export terminals.  Barrasso says it would give the US more foreign policy leverage.

“The approval of contracts by the federal government, to say ‘this is going to go’ will undermine Russia’s pricing ability in the Ukraine and in Europe,” Barrasso says.

Repealing tax credits for fossil fuel producers and strengthening the Bureau of Land Management’s oil and gas program are the among the energy proposals in President Obama’s 2015 budget.

Rocky Mountain Power is asking regulators for permission to raise rates by an average of 5.3 percent starting in January 2015. That would translate to an extra $4.50 a month for average residential customers. Company spokesman Jeff Hymas says the rate increase is necessary for a number of reasons, but mostly because of recent infrastructure investments totaling over $2 billion. Those include projects in Wyoming and out of state, but Wyoming’s growing electricity use factors into how much it has to pay.

Grizzly bear management and Wyoming Game and Fish employee health insurance will be covered out of the state’s general fund in future budget cycles. The Legislature passed a bill that sidesteps their refusal to raise hunting and fishing licenses fees by allowing the agency to request state funding for those programs. Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott says it will free up about $7 million.

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is planning to review several controversial issues, including flaring, well-setbacks and bonding, starting in March.

Those topics have come up a lot in recent years, with the boom in drilling. The Powder River Basin Resource Council asked the Commission to address them last year, and so have several residents in recent opinion pieces in the Casper Star-Tribune.

Ray Mitchell

The WPM Forum On Coal was a moderated discussion about the challenges coal is currently facing politically, economically and environmentally, how that could impact Wyoming in the future, and ways the state is innovating to keep coal relevant.

Rick Schreiber

A Wyoming company is in trouble with North Dakota officials for improperly disposing of filter socks used in oil and gas drilling. Filter socks capture sediment in flowback water, and can concentrate naturally-occurring radioactivity. The North Dakota Department of Health says inspectors detected radioactivity at above-background levels on two flatbed trailers piled high with filter socks that are owned by Riverton-based R.P Services.

Increasing volumes of coal and oil being shipped to the Pacific Northwest are putting pressure on rail capacity in the region, according a new report from the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

Natural gas prices hit a 5-year high this week in response to news that another bout of extreme cold weather will hit the Northeast and Midwest in coming days. Previous cold snaps this winter have led to record consumption of natural gas, which in turn has drawn down reserves. In response, prices have climbed more than 40 percent since the beginning of the year, reaching over $6 per million BTU Wednesday.

Doug Hock is a spokesman for Encana, the largest natural producer in Wyoming. He says the upswing is a welcome change of pace, after years of low prices.

Bridger-Teton Avalanche Center

The Rocky Mountain states have experienced avalanche activity in recent weeks that forecasters are calling ‘historic.’

Wyoming experienced some of its largest avalanches in decades. "These are thirty, fifty, maybe a hundred year events," says Bridger Teton Avalanche Center director Bob Comey.

The spate of slides culminated this weekend, with avalanches burying several roads and popular trails in the Jackson area.

Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Marion Loomis says coal’s future is bright -- but that there’s a need for continued innovation -- both in extraction technology and emissions control.

“We’ve made such tremendous strides in reducing emission levels. We’ve increased coal production about 170 percent in this country in the last 20 years and reduced pollutants by over 85 percent,” says Loomis.

The Senate Minerals Committee approved a bill Monday that would increase the amount of money oil and gas operators have to put up before accessing split estate properties.

A split estate is when a private landowner owns the surface land and not the mineral rights. The bill raises the minimum bonding amount from $2,000 to $10,000. The bond covers any damages to the property from development, when a surface use agreement can’t be negotiated.

There’s a fight brewing in Wyoming over the rights of landowners who don’t own the minerals below their properties. In 2005, the legislature passed a Split Estate law, but now, one lawmaker is saying it may be time to revisit the issue, in light of changes in drilling technology and intensity.

Senator Jim Anderson introduced a bill this week that would increase bonding on split-estate properties. Wyoming Public Radio energy reporter Stephanie Joyce joins us to discuss the bill, and its implications.

WILLOW BELDEN: So, what does this bill do?

Marion Loomis has been with the Wyoming Mining Association, one of the state’s most influential interest groups, for almost 40 years. Earlier this week, he announced that he would be retiring that post in April. Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce caught up with Loomis at the Capitol to discuss his career and what the future holds for the state’s mining industry.

Port facilities that would export Powder River Basin coal through the Pacific Northwest are continuing to move towards construction.

In separate decisions this week, Washington and Oregon both announced progress on permitting for coal export terminals in their respective states.

Along with much of the country, Wyoming has seen a dramatic spike in propane prices over the last six months, but industry observers say it should be short-lived. Baron Glassgow is executive director of the Rocky Mountain Propane Association.

“You know, in the U-S, we’re actually making more propane than we ever have before. So it’s not like we have a shortage of production. It’s just a combination of factors this year that have been kind of like the perfect storm,” Glassgow says. 

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.”

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