Natural Resources & Energy

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Stephanie Joyce

As oil prices continue to plummet, energy-producing states are starting to feel the squeeze. Wyoming crude is selling for half what it was in June. That price drop means companies are making less money -- and so is the state.

This year, for the first time in decades, severance taxes from oil surpassed coal and came close to knocking natural gas out of its number one spot, but now, with oil prices falling, Governor Matt Mead says the state is losing out on a lot of money.

Stephanie Joyce

Oil prices continued their months-long freefall this week. The US benchmark crude price dropped below $60 a barrel for the first time in five years on Thursday. In Wyoming and other oil producing states, those lower prices are starting to take a toll on companies. 

Cyclone Drilling is one of Wyoming's largest drilling contractors. Manager Patrick Hladky says if prices don’t rebound quickly, he’s expecting to idle at least two of the company’s 27 rigs by the end of the month and even more in the first quarter of next year.

USDA photo by Scott Bauer

A great deal of research is happening right now on why mule deer populations are declining so fast in the state… and now the University of Wyoming and Wyoming Game and Fish are offering a week-long Tweet Event to let the public participate in the capture and collaring of mule deer. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Working in the oil and gas industry is dangerous. Inside Energy reported earlier this year that these jobs are in fact six times more dangerous than the average American job. A new training center opening up in central Wyoming in 2015 is designed to address those risks by training students as young as 16 on the heavy equipment used in oil and gas production.

The Western Governor’s Association, including Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, passed a resolution this weekend saying the energy industry needs to reduce methane leakage. Methane is the main component of natural gas. The resolution says methane leaks are a serious financial and environmental problem.

Jon Goldstein is the Environmental Defense Fund’s Senior Policy Manager. He says leaks should be a concern not only for people worried about the environment, but also companies looking at the bottom line.

After just two years on the job, Wyoming’s occupational epidemiologist is leaving. Mack Sewell is the second person to hold the position. His predecessor, Timothy Ryan, quit amid frustration over what he saw as Wyoming’s lack of desire to improve workplace safety. Sewell, on the other hand, is retiring.

The occupational epidemiologist position was created to address Wyoming’s high rate of workplace injuries and fatalities. Sewell says the state has taken steps in the right direction, but that it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions from the limited amount of data available.

Stephanie Joyce

So far, Wyoming has largely managed to avoid the tensions over oil and gas development that have cropped up in other states. It’s not hard to imagine that it’s just a matter of time though, as companies have filed for hundreds of drilling permits in recent months in the vicinity of the state’s largest city, Cheyenne.

At an April meeting hosted by the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Cathy Moriarty, of Torrington, said landowners needed better protections.

Stephanie Joyce

A month ago, something happened that many never imagined possible: Voters in Denton, Texas passed a ban on fracking.

In New York and even in Colorado, fracking bans weren't particularly shocking. But Texas? As the oil and gas industry navigates this latest energy boom, it’s facing a new and sometimes fraught relationship with the American public.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Working in the oil and gas industry is dangerous. As Inside Energy reported in its "Dark Side Of The Boom" series, these jobs are actually six times more dangerous than the average American job. But a new Department of Labor-sponsored training program could help fight that trend.

Stephanie Joyce / Inside Energy

The window to comment on the EPA's Clean Power Plan closed on Monday with over 1.6 million comments. A quick search of the 22,718 comments that are publicly posted (less than 1% of the total) showed that Wyoming-ites sent their thoughts in to the EPA at six times the rate of the average American.

Stephanie Joyce

The State has released the second of three reports into the cause of groundwater contamination outside the town of Pavillion, in Fremont County. Many suspect that nearby oil and gas development is responsible. The state released its first report in August. That one looked at whether there were problems with the natural gas wells themselves that could explain the contamination and concluded that more study is necessary.

Stephanie Joyce

If there were ever uncertainty about how Wyoming policymakers would feel about the Environmental Protection Agency’s plan to cut carbon emissions from power plants, now we can say for sure:  they hate it. The comment period for the so-called Clean Power Plan ended Monday. Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard spoke with energy reporter Stephanie Joyce about what the state had to say and where things go from here.

CAROLINE BALLARD: Stephanie, to start, refresh our memories about what exactly the Clean Power Plan is. 

Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile

New regulations designed to combat smog could leave hundreds of counties in the United States out of compliance with federal air quality standards, including up to eight in Wyoming.

Stephanie Joyce

With backing from the co-founder of Microsoft, two environmental groups filed suit Tuesday over the federal government’s coal leasing program.

Wyoming’s uranium industry moved closer to its goal of being regulated by the state instead of the federal government on Monday.

The Legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee voted to introduce a bill that would allow the Department of Environmental Quality to take over from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Transferring the regulatory responsibilities is estimated to cost 4 million dollars. Shannon Anderson with the Powder River Basin Resource Council told the committee that the industry should have to pay for that.

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.

Wyoming’s Republican senators can’t wait to go from being in the minority to the majority party come January. In the new year the GOP will hold all the gavels - and with them, most of the power - on Capitol Hill. But Republicans are still locked out of the White House, which Senator John Barrasso is keenly aware of. He's not happy the president is using his pen on immigration reform or to agree to carbon emission targets with China. 

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?

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The oil and gas boom in states like Wyoming, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas has not only brought jobs and prosperity but also a dangerous spike in traffic and accidents. These states have reacted with a variety of fixes, but not one has been able to prepare in advance for the traffic boom. That is partly because a large slice of transportation funding in most states comes from the oil and gas industry itself. Jim Willox is a local official in Wyoming’s Converse County, where much of the oil and gas boom is taking place:

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

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.”

Jordan Wirfs-Brock / Inside Energy

(This is the first in an occasional series on the financing behind the country’s energy boom.)

Oil prices are slipping to levels not seen in years. That is bad for oil companies, but it has to be good for consumers, right?

The story is more complicated than that.  Nearly all of us with retirement accounts--the tens of millions of Americans with IRAs, 401Ks, 403Bs, or pension funds--are actually solidly invested in oil and gas companies.

The struggling coal bed methane company High Plains Gas says it will pay $7 million in overdue well bonding to the State of Wyoming. The company owns more than 3,000 wells in the Powder River Basin that the state had said it would take over and plug if the bond wasn't posted by yesterday. While the bond wasn't posted yesterday, an extension has been provided for the company.

commons.wikimedia.org

Wednesday is the deadline for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to decide whether or not to list the Gunnison Sage Grouse, a sub-species that’s struggling in Colorado and Utah, under the Endangered Species Act.

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.

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