Natural Resources & Energy

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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.

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality will replace a mobile air quality monitoring station in Converse County with a permanent one this month. 

The mobile monitor was installed a couple of years ago after heavy oil and gas development occurred in the area, and residents voiced concerns about emissions. Not every county in Wyoming has a monitor. The DEQ uses mobile monitors to check places that don’t have expensive permanent ones, and evaluate whether they need a permanent monitor.

Wyoming Economic Analysis Division

The effects of low oil and natural gas prices are apparent in this month’s jobs numbers for Wyoming. Although overall employment in Wyoming grew, the oil and gas sector shed more than a thousand jobs from this time last year.

“The job losses have still been concentrated in the mining industry. We just haven’t seen the spillover into other industries,” said Jim Robinson, the state economist, although he cautioned that that job losses in oil and gas support sectors could take longer to show up.  

North Dakota Joins Wyoming Fracking Lawsuit

Mar 31, 2015
Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

North Dakota is joining Wyoming’s lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management over its new fracking for rules for federal and tribal lands.

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says one of the major problems with the new rules is that they could dramatically lengthen the 10 months it now takes to get an oil and gas permit from the federal government.

The largest proposed coal export terminal on the West Coast is facing additional delays.

The Gateway Pacific terminal in Washington State would ship up to 54 million tons of coal a year, mostly from the Powder River Basin. It's currently under environmental review. A draft of that review was expected to be published this year, but changes to the project have pushed that back until at least 2016.

With a formal complaint filed by the Wyoming Attorney General's office, the state became the first to challenge a new federal rule that regulates hydraulic fracturing on public lands. 

Among other things, the rule requires disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and tests to make sure a well isn't leaking. According to the complaint filed in federal district court today, the new rule represents federal overreach by the Bureau of Land Management and conflicts with Wyoming’s own hydraulic fracturing regulations.  

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

With oil prices hovering at multi-year lows, many companies are choosing to store, rather than sell their oil. In addition to conventional storage in tanks and tankers, companies are also choosing to store the oil in the ground. 

Dan Boyce

The federal government has released its first set of rules addressing fracking on public lands, and they’re already getting pushback—in Congress and in court.

Stephanie Joyce

When it comes to oil and gas drilling in urban and suburban areas, the question is often ‘how close is too close?’ That’s been the major point of contention in Wyoming, where the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is currently considering a rule to increase the setback distance between oil and gas wells and houses from 350 to 500 feet. Many homeowners would like it to be even further. Distance is only one part of the issue though, as Brad Brooks would attest.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

With oil prices now at a six year low, oil companies have been idling hundreds of drilling rigs. For the wells that remain active, the key is getting more out of less...which is tricky because when you drill for oil, only around 5 percent of what’s underground is actually recovered. That’s according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Inside Energy’s Leigh Paterson reports on how these days - with prices so low -  producers are using technology to chase oil thousands of feet below the earth’s surface. 

Wyoming is now home to the largest conservation bank in the country. The conservation bank program allows private landowners to permanently protect a critical habitat area in exchange for credits that can be sold to developers who plan to disturb critical habitat elsewhere.

The Department of the Interior will finalize new rules for fracking on federal lands in coming days, Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday during a speech outlining her energy agenda for the next two years. She quipped that the rules governing oil and gas haven’t changed much since she was a petroleum engineer 30 years ago and that it’s time for an update.

Zach Mahone / Vail Valley Foundation

Pressure is mounting for a decision in Washington that would lift the crude oil export ban. Energy executives met with Obama administration officials last week to lobby for lifting it. This past weekend, they made their case at an energy conference in Colorado.  

This week, lawmakers in Washington are examining the cost and legality of the Environmental Protection Agency’s controversial plan to reduce carbon emissions.

The issue also came up over the weekend during a panel about clean power at an energy conference in Colorado. 

Stephanie Joyce

Radioactive waste is a common by-product of oil and gas drilling. On Friday, workers in North Dakota were cleaning up a pile of illegally dumped waste filters.  

Up to 100 filter socks were found in Williston, a North Dakota oil and gas boomtown in the western part of the state. Filter socks are the nets that strain out the sludge, which is sometimes radioactive, that is a by-product of oil production.  Dale Patrick from North Dakota’s Department of Public Health said that although the dumping was illegal, there was little threat to the public. 

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