Natural Resources & Energy

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The solar eclipse has long been a research opportunity for astronomers and physicists. Now, energy researchers are taking part, too.

That's because the eclipse will disrupt U.S. solar energy production. It won't be a big disruption because solar still takes up a relatively small amount of the energy grid, but it'll happen when energy use is at its peak, and it’ll do so in a very predictable way across a huge area.

Dan Boyce

At 11 p.m. on a recent Friday night, the West Elk Mine outside Somerset opened its gates. Cars and trucks started rolling out, signaling the end of a coal mining shift in this rural pocket of Colorado.

Workers had been opening up a new section of the mine four or five miles underground, a tough job made tougher considering that the current economics of the coal industry means fewer workers at the mine.

Several groups are working on a project aimed at representing the cultural importance of elk to the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes.

Jim Peaco / Wikimedia Commons

Two studies put out by Yellowstone National Park reveal that traffic and parking are major issues for both visitor enjoyment and for the park’s infrastructure going forward.

Wyoming toad
Sara Armstrong / USFWS Mountain-Prairie

While you’re watching the eclipse next week, you might notice a change in the sound of wildlife around you. With the sudden switch from light to dark, along with a temperature drop, the eclipse may affect the behavior of certain animals — like rodents, birds, and amphibians.  

Grant Frost, a biologist with Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department, said, “Some animals will begin to awaken, to stir, because they think that night is coming on . . . you might hear some changes in the calls they make just because they’re thinking they should gather together or whatever the activity is.”

Alexis Bonogofsky

Yellowstone National Park plans to use a temporary bison quarantine facility in the upcoming winter/spring for 54 animals it kept separate from the rest of the herd.

Park Supervisor Dan Wenk said last spring the herd was 5,500 strong but the bison management plan required it be whittled down to 3,800.

“Because we have a large population that necessitated we removed over 1,200 animals last year,” Wenk said. “That is not, unfortunately, unusual.”

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

West Virginia wants to use federal dollars to subsidize Appalachian coal. Some think that’s picking favorites — not just over natural gas and renewables, but over other coal states. 

Madelyn Beck

When Alpha Natural Resources went into bankruptcy in 2015, it formed a new company called Contura Energy with some of Alpha’s best coal assets - mines in Wyoming and Appalachia.

Earlier this summer, Contura announced it was going to go public, hoping to expand in the U.S. and beyond. Usually, companies go public and sell shares to raise money and grow their business.  

Now, Contura is backing out of that plan.

The company said it’s because of "capital market conditions."

A greater sage-grouse male struts for a female at a lek (dancing or mating ground) near Bridgeport, CA
Jeannie Stafford / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead is concerned about the Interior Department’s recommendations to the sage grouse conservation plans. The federal agency released a report this week outlining recommendations to the 2015 plan, including giving states more leniency in enforcing the rules and changing the focus from habitat management to population goals.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has released a final version of their State Wildlife Action Plan, or SWAP. This is an update from the 2010 document they have been using to guide management of all non-game species in Wyoming.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/chadh-flickr/2568757313

State veterinarians confirmed that plague is killing prairie dog colonies in the Thunder Basin National Grassland of northeastern Wyoming. Reports of plague have come in from other parts of the state as well.

A male Sage Grouse (also known as the Greater Sage Grouse) in the USA
Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Sacramento, US

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to make fundamental changes to a sage grouse conservation plan adopted under the Obama administration. They could make it easier for ranchers and energy companies to move into sagebrush habitat that’s now off limits. 

Madelyn Beck

An accident in Colorado brings the total coal mine deaths this year to 11: more than in all of 2016.

Blue Mountain Energy, Inc. released a statement Aug. 3 saying a worker at their Deserado Mine died the night before. 

"The accident occurred above ground inside the coal processing building, as the worker was attempting to remove a portion of a steel beam," it said.

The employee's name had not been released as of August 4. That accident is now under investigation.

Cooper McKim

At the center of the dusty Pinedale-Anticline field looking over the Wind River Range, Erika Tokarz stands on Ultra Petroleum’s  Riverside 9-2 pad which is home to several wellheads. Across the road, workers in hard-hats and sunglasses crisscross the plot of land with a massive tower at its center, working to drill a hole for natural gas. 

 

Melodie Edwards

If you want to catch mule deer fawns, you’ve got to get up pretty early in the morning. It’s 5 a.m. when University of Wyoming Research Scientist Samantha Dwinnell gets on her computer. She checks signals emitted from a radio collared pregnant doe that shows she’s been hunkering down in one spot.

“Oh man, that’s beautiful,” Dwinnell says, laughing. “That’s exactly what we’re looking for,”

CGP Grey (2009-09-09T19-50-42 -- DSC_0245 4893627106) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Eighty-three-year-old Ralph Deckett stood outside the Curt Gowdy State Park visitor center, broom in hand. Now retired from the FBI, Deckett spends much of his time looking after museums and recreation sites like Curt Gowdy, where he had been volunteering since the beginning of July.

“We just try to keep it nice, the best we can around here. It’s amazing how people can trash out a place,” Deckett said.

(NPS Photo/ Tim Rains)

The Endangered Species Act has been the law of the land for more than 40 years. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, the act was intended to highlight the “esthetic, ecological, educational, recreational, and scientific value to our Nation and its people.” But Wyoming Senator John Barrasso says it needs updating.

“The Endangered Species Act was written, created and adopted for all the right reasons and there’s just too much sand in the gears right now.”

Barrasso says the Act creates too many hoops and hurdles.

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

A changing climate may be bad PR for fossil fuels, but it could help their bottom line.

Two major coal companies released earnings reports in late July stating how higher temperatures mean coal stockpiles are being eaten up. Both Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy are hoping for a long, hot summer so that trend continues.

Maggie Mullen

Thousands of years ago in northern Wyoming, countless animals fell to their death at the bottom of an 85-foot cave. Natural Trap Cave has long been closed to recreation, but scientists have spent the last four summers unearthing the remains of many now-extinct animals. Excavations will soon come to an end.

 

Credit Grizzly bear on Swan Lake Flats, Yellowstone National Park; Jim Peaco

This week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially removed the Yellowstone area grizzly from the endangered species list, pronouncing it a success story. But several tribes including the Northern Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Standing Rock Sioux and Blackfeet are suing over the decision. Ben Nuvamsa is a member of the Hopi Nation Bear Clan that’s also part of the lawsuit. He said, by law, the federal government should have consulted tribes before delisting the bear.

Tom Koerner/USFWS

A new report called “The Sage Grouse White Papers” released last month by the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies shows that captive breeding methods have a long way to go before they can help bring up sage grouse numbers.

POWDER RIVER BASIN RESOURCE COUNCIL

The Environmental Quality Council, or EQC, will not accept a permit for the proposed Brook Mine. The independent review board is made up of five council members. In a four to one vote, the EQC decided the permit application was incomplete.

The council brought up several deficiencies with the permit application including lack of information on subsidence, the costs of land reclamation, and effects on hydrology. All members agreed Brook Mine LLC should have held sessions for public input before it submitted a permit application. 

The High Plains wind farm, near McFadden, Wyoming.
Leigh Paterson

Wind energy projects are being built all over the U.S. and a new report shows just how fast they're cropping up. 

The American Wind Energy Association found that, since last year, the amount of wind energy under construction or nearly under construction increased 40 percent. That increase is enough to power more than 1.6 million homes on average.

Now, not all of the wind energy planned last year has come online this year, but more than half of it has.

Energy Information Administraion

The fracking boom is propelling shale-rich states to the top of the nation’s list of energy suppliers, but a new report shows Wyoming still takes the lead despite a struggling coal industry.

Wyoming has been spreading more energy around the nation than any other state since the 80s. But its supply of energy to other states has been sliding since 2008, mirroring a decline in coal production.

A new report from the Energy Information Administration shows that as Wyoming slides downward, other states have ramped up oil and gas production.

Wikimedia Commons

Yellowstone National Park will begin taking actions against employees accused of sexual harassment in the park’s maintenance division in the coming week.

Maggie Mullen

The Bureau of Land Management is seeking public input on a proposed wild horse gather in southwest Wyoming — they want to hear what people think about a recent environmental assessment. 

A wild horse gather is a herd management technique meant to remove the animal from the land, before entering them into the agencies wild horse and burro program, where they can be adopted.

Henry Leap (Goldstar father)

This week, a group of veterans will ascend Wyoming’s highest mountain, Gannett Peak in the Wind River Range in central Wyoming. 

The climb is part of a project called Summit for Soldiers and the idea is to help get vets who’ve suffered combat trauma into the outdoors to help them recover.

The group’s founder Mike Fairman said as many as 8,000 vets a year commit suicide, and not long ago he was nearly one of those statistics.

The sign at the entrance to Yellowstone National Park
Wikimedia Commons: Guerillero

The Department of Interior will contribute $53 million to the National Park Service this year with funds going to 42 parks including Grand Teton and Yellowstone. The goal of the incoming money will be to address high priority maintenance projects. For Yellowstone, that means improving trails, retaining walls, and overlooks for the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Billy Hathorn; https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kindling_for_starting_a_campfire_IMG_2454.JPG

Visitors to the Jackson area left at least ten campfires burning over the weekend.

Two of the fires had been built illegally inside Teton National Park, and two were south of Jackson, according to Fire Prevention Officer Lesley Williams. She said the rest of the unattended campfires were discovered west of the park near Shadow Mountain where there aren’t many natural sources of water to douse the flames.  Williams recommended packing extra water on camping trips, and checking to make sure the fire is really extinguished.

Cooper McKim

A conservation group has expressed skepticism about a federal grant announced by Ramaco Carbon, LLC, a coal company that intends to build a mine north of Sheridan. Ramaco recently announced a $7 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop low-cost carbon-fiber components made from coal instead of oil.

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