Natural Resources & Energy

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Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Over the last few years, Wyoming's African American population has grown faster than in any other state. According to census data, between 2010 and 2013, the number of black residents doubled. In some counties, especially those with a lot of energy development or tourism, that increase was more like 300, 500 or even 800 percent. Other rural Western states, all with unemployment rates well below the national average, are experiencing a similar trend.

Flickr Creative Commons

A report commissioned by Pew Charitable Trusts predicts that sage grouse will be extinct in 100 years and could be gone from the Powder River Basin in 30 years, if their decline continues at its current rate. The Garton report, as it’s known, was released last week in the “Environment and Energy Daily,” an online magazine. Wyoming Sage Grouse Coordinator Tom Christiansen says he has concerns with the study--not the method or the analysis, but its conclusion that conservation efforts aren’t working.

Stephanie Joyce / WPM

After more than a dozen major crude oil train derailments in the last few years, the Department of Transportation is updating its shipping rules.

The new rules phase out the easily-punctured tank cars known as DOT-111s over the next three years. They also set a 50 mile per hour speed limits for crude oil trains, and require trains carrying more than 70 cars of crude oil to have better brakes so they don’t crunch accordion-style during a derailment.

Jeannie Stafford/USFWS & US Energy Dept

A chicken-sized game bird native to western sagebrush has become the subject of the biggest conservation project in U.S. history.

Efforts to keep the greater sage grouse off the endangered species list stretch across 11 states from North Dakota to California. It is a complex balancing act between saving critical ecosystems while at the same time protecting the region’s key industries.

Department Of Wildlife

It’s been five years since Governor Matt Mead signed an executive order giving special protections to the state’s greater sage grouse populations. Now that order says it’s time to re-evaluate the plan and make sure it’s actually doing its job. The goal is to convince the U.S. Fish and Wildlife not to list the grouse as an endangered species come September 30.

Flickr user Geof Wilson

The oil and gas industry pays a ton of money in severance taxes to energy producing states like Colorado, Wyoming and especially North Dakota. When oil prices were high, North Dakota took in about $10.5 million a day. But as prices have fallen, so has revenue. In the midst of this, North Dakota lawmakers have passed a bill to stabilize and lower the state’s oil and gas tax rate.

 

Very few people in the state capitol of Bismarck support the state's current tax system. Representative Al Carlson, the House Majority Leader, put it this way:

Clay Scott / Inside Energy

For years, Wyoming has been the leader in Coal Production. Production has dipped slightly in the state, but Wyoming still produces 40% of the nation’s coal – far more than any other state. As part of Inside Energy’s series on the Future of Coal, Reporter Clay Scott visited the state and found the industry’s imprint on the West runs deep.

 

At a public meeting this week in Buffalo, the state’s sage grouse team heard ideas for increasing the Powder River Basin grouse populations. A new Pew Charitable Trust report shows that the area’s sage grouse are close to extinction with a 98 percent chance that in 30 years there will be less than 50 birds left there. Wildlife biologist Erik Molvar with the environmental group WildEarth Guardians says the coalbed methane industry played a role in the decline.

An Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed transmission line that would carry electricity from Sinclair to the Western U.S. is now available for review. 

Beverly Gorny with the Bureau of Land Management says the company Transwest Express, LLC, first proposed the 730-mile long transmission line in 2007.  Her agency will be accepting written concerns for the next month.

Shoshone National Forest

The long awaited Shoshone Forest Plan will be signed into law soon. The Shoshone Forest is the nation’s first national forest. The plan for the forest has been more than ten years in the making.

After forest managers presented a plan last year, that would allow off road vehicles and bicycles to expand in areas that had previously been off limits, several parties objected.

Forest Supervisor Joe Alexander said, “We had 72 objections to our plan.”

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

 

According to a new report, counties in several Western states have unhealthy levels of ozone pollution, including Wyoming’s Sublette County.

 

The super bowl of energy conferences, called CERAWeek, wrapped up in Houston on Friday. Industry executives, analysts, and policy makers were all there to talk about the current state of the industry and where it's headed. Panels and keynote speakers talked about everything from natural gas, to coal, to of course, oil prices.

Leigh Paterson is a Wyoming-based reporter for Inside Energy. That’s a public media collaboration focused on America’s energy issues. She was at the conference all week and joined Wyoming Public Radio's Caroline Ballard to talk all about it.

Yellowstone National Park/Creative Commons

Researchers with the University of Utah have discovered a large magma reservoir underneath the Yellowstone National Park caldera. In a report released Thursday, they say the new area lies 12 miles underground, below a shallower well-known magma chamber.

Researcher Robert Smith is a co-author of the study and says his team used a geologic CT scan to discover the reservoir that’s filled with a mass of hot porous rock, rather than the typical magma. He says the new finding solves a puzzle of the Yellowstone volcano system.

An environmental watchdog group says the Environmental Protection Agency’s latest permits violate the Clean Water Act by allowing thousands of gallons of fracking fluids to be released onto Wind River Reservation lands. The group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility or PEER, say the permits were originally issued in the 1970’s to provide drinking water for livestock and wildlife in the arid West. Director Jeffrey Ruch says, since then, fracking fluid ingredients have become much more complex.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

On Thursday, at an energy conference in Houston, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency emphasized that under a plan to cut carbon emissions, coal will still be an important part of the nation's energy mix.  

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Today, the largest coal company in the U.S. announced that it is considering selling assets, including in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin,  as a way to deal with the depressed coal market. 

Peabody Energy Corporation posted larger than expected first quarter losses and is exploring ways to cut costs. Options include selling coal reserves and land holdings in both Australia and the U.S. Company CEO, Greg Boyce spoke at an energy conference in Houston. He emphasized that all assets are under review. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Over two decades ago, Wyoming surpassed Kentucky as the country’s number one coal producing state and has kept that title ever since.  The steady and sharp increase in demand for the state’s comparably cleaner coal wasn’t due to obvious factors, like market forces or labor costs. It was brought on largely by federal environmental regulations. And now a series of new regulations are changing the industry even more. Inside Energy’s Leigh Paterson reports.  

commons.wikimedia.org

After lengthy discussions, Jonah Energy has agreed to hold off on plans to drill some 3500 gas wells near Pinedale until an environmental impact statement is complete.

Governor Mead’s Sage Grouse Implementation Team could not reach a consensus on Tuesday on whether to include the area—known as the NPL or Normally Pressurized Lance—as protected habitat. Wyoming Game and Fish sage grouse coordinator Tom Christiansen says, the team didn't agree on whether or not to adopt the area into the grouse's core area habitat.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

 After months of deliberation, Wyoming has increased the so-called setback distance for oil and gas wells--how far they have to be from occupied structures like houses and schools.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted unanimously and without debate Tuesday to increase the setback from 350 to 500 feet.

In the lead-up to the vote, the state and industry called the increase a compromise, but many landowners argued that 500 feet was not nearly far enough, and asked for a quarter-mile (1320ft) or more. 

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has donated $30 million to a Sierra Club campaign that aims to close half of the nation’s coal-fired power plants by 2017. There are currently just over 500 coal-fired power plants in the US, including 13 in Wyoming. Those supply 90% of the state's power. 

Connie Wilbert is with the Sierra Club of Wyoming. She says while the campaign hopes to see some of state’s coal power shuttered, there are challenges in Wyoming.

Melodie Edwards

When you hear the word “boom” in the West, you usually think of the energy industry. But in the last 15 years, there’s been another kind: a timber boom. That’s thanks to the mountain pine beetle, a tiny ravenous bug that’s now chomped its way through over 40 million acres of forest in the U.S., moving north into Canada, expanding its reach as the climate warms.  To clean up all that dead wood, forest managers have turned to the timber industry, leading to a surge in jobs and enterprise. But now, the bugs have almost eaten themselves out of food.

Richard Martin

The “war on coal” is a catchphrase typically used by industry-backers to rally against the Obama administration, but in his new book, "Coal Wars," author Richard Martin, comes at the issue from the other side. In addition to being an author, Martin works for Navigant Research, one of the world’s leading clean energy consulting firms, and as he explained in an interview with Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce, while he sees coal’s decline as inevitable, the book is his attempt to understand what that means for people in coal country.

A.G. McQuillan

Oil prices have fallen by over half since last summer. In oil producing states like North Dakota, that's caused widespread layoffs and a huge slowdown in oilfield activity. But one thing hasn’t changed — rents. In and around the Bakken oil field, they are among the highest in the nation.

Ryan Hagerty / USFWS

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife is asking people to weigh in on a proposal to designate Wyoming as a special area for the reintroduction of the endangered black-footed ferret.

Fish and Wildlife would work with the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish to release the endangered predator onto the property of landowners who volunteer.

Fish and Wildlife representative Ryan Moehring says that landowners will likely be eager, since the black-footed ferret’s sole diet is prairie dogs.

The Western Governor’s Association has released a special report outlining numerous programs Wyoming and other western states have adopted to stop the rapid decline of the greater sage grouse. But Wildlife Biologist Erik Molvar with WildEarth Guardians says sage grouse numbers have been plummeting and it’s going to take more than local, voluntary efforts to turn things around.

“It’s going to require range-wide commitments to science-based protections that are mandatory.”

Stephanie Joyce

A company that wants to test underground coal gasification in Wyoming is facing charges in Australia for allegedly polluting air and groundwater and exposing workers to dangerous gases.

Leigh Paterson

Emissions from facilities that treat oil and gas wastewater could contribute to ozone formation, according to a new study from the University of Wyoming. 

It’s not news that under the right conditions, oil and gas development can lead to more ground-level ozone, but oil and gas wastewater treatment hasn't previously been identified as a potential contributor.

Chris Servheen

Elk and other wildlife are beginning their spring migrations. Moving to summer ranges can mean crossing roads and highways, which puts wildlife at risk of being struck and killed by vehicles. But research shows that properly designed wildlife crossings can make roads safer for wildlife and for people. 

Tony Clevenger has been studying wildlife crossings in the Canadian Rockies for more than 17 years, and he says the data is clear about when building crossings is cost effective.

Wyoming has half the snowpack it did at this time that year. That’s according to a report from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The state had an average 135% snowpack level in March of 2014, but this March had only a 70% average. The Sweetwater and Belle Fourche saw its lowest levels of snowpack since record-keeping began.  

Daryl Lee Hackleman  is the Water Supply Specialist with the Service’s Wyoming office. He says while the year started out strong, snow just didn’t come.

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

Just over half of people in Wyoming believe the climate is changing, according to a new study from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. 

The study examines climate change beliefs on a county and state level, including whether global warming is caused by humans, whether it will harm future generations and whether there should be policies in place to curb carbon emissions.

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