Natural Resources & Energy

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Chuck Abbe / Wikimedia Commons

The utility giant PacifiCorp has agreed to a $2.5 million dollar settlement over bird deaths at two of its wind farms in Wyoming.

PacifiCorp pleaded guilty to killing more than 300 birds, including 38 golden eagles. The Department of Justice says the company knew that its turbine siting at the farms outside of Glenrock would result in bird deaths. PacifiCorp spokesman David Eskelsen says the company disputes that characterization, but not the fine. 

“The law is the law and we’re committed to abide by the regulations,”  he said. 

Stephanie Joyce

Coal companies could have to pay royalties on the sale price of exported coal if the Department of the Interior adopts new regulations next year. The draft rules released on Friday address a loophole first identified by the Reuters news service.

Greg Goebel / Wikimedia Commons

 

 

    

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency released the first national guidelines to regulate the disposal of coal ash. This dust-like substance is what is leftover when power plans burn coal for electricity and can contain toxins like arsenic, lead, and mercury.  Coal ash is usually collected and then buried in a disposal pond or landfill. In some cases, it can be recycled.

Rebecca Martinez

Oil prices have been in freefall in recent months, dropping by more than half since June. For energy states like Wyoming, that’s bad news. As Governor Matt Mead pointed out recently, the state has a lot of money riding on oil.

This is not the first time Wyoming has weathered a downturn. In fact, for those who can remember all the way back to 2009 and crashing natural gas prices, today’s news may seem like deja vu. Booms and busts are part of the state’s economy. But do they have to be?

In Wyoming the energy industry accounts for nearly 70 to 80 percent of the state’s wealth. Wyoming builds its budget around energy prices and sales taxes that are connected to energy. When commodity prices fall, it’s difficult to fund government services.

After the oil downturn of the 1980’s funding the government was a challenge and Wyoming’s incoming Speaker of the House Kermit Brown remembers that it got especially bad in the late 90’s. 

Stephanie Joyce

In case you hadn’t heard, the United States has been experiencing an oil boom for the last five years. The boom has helped the country’s economic recovery and created thousands of jobs for people in states like North Dakota, Wyoming and Texas. But although booms are often heralded for the economic opportunities they provide…they also have a darker side.

It’s almost two o’clock in the afternoon and the lunch rush at The Depot restaurant in Douglas, Wyoming is just beginning to taper off.

Few people have had a more intimate experience with a boom and bust economy than former Governor Jim Geringer. The Republican took office in 1995 and left in 2002 as the state was enjoying a natural gas boom.  Geringer also chaired the Senate Appropriations committee in the early 1990’s when budget cutting was the norm. Geringer says to prepare for a bust, the state should prioritize programs.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

This is an updated post from a previous story: INSIDE ENERGY: A Tiny Wyoming Town, Stuck In (Boom) Traffic

Miles Bryan

For a little shop like the Bill Store an energy boom can be a blessing. Nothing is better for a small business than lots of customers with cash to burn. But when wells close and energy workers head out of town the businesses that remain have to figure out how to survive.

Verne Waldner bought the Conoco Service Station in Wamsutter Wyoming back in 1973. There wasn’t much to the town then, and there still isn’t. Wamsutter sits off Interstate 80 and has a current population of just under 500.

Miles Bryan

If you move to Wyoming to work in oil or gas you probably know to expect long hours and a big paycheck. You might even know to expect to be sleeping in your car. Housing is a perennial issue in boomtowns, one that pits the needs of energy workers against the interests of long term residents and there’s no easy fix. 

Caroline Ballard

Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard sat down with Phil Roberts, a history professor at the University of Wyoming, to understand more about the history of booms and busts in Wyoming. He says it's a cycle the state has gone through many times before.

Melodie Edwards

When you think of towns impacted by energy development, it usually involves transient workers, increased crime, and RV parks. Maybe not the most family oriented place. But plenty of oil and gas workers try to make it work, which could be just the cure for some of these social ills. The challenge is finding these families adequate housing. 

The State of Wyoming may be getting into the coal export business.

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.

The National Park Service has released a report that summarizes public comments on Grand Teton’s Moose-Wilson Corridor management strategies.

The corridor is a heavily traveled, single lane road, in the southern area of the park, from Moose toward Teton Village. The management plan would include road alignment, trailhead location, and access, among other considerations. During a 30-day period, the park received over 25-hundred comments.

Park official Andrew White says many of the comments will affect the next draft of the alternatives. One example, he says, is horses.

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.

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