Natural Resources & Energy

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With drought and climate change creating water shortages in lower desert states, Wyoming is looking for more ways to store its share of Colorado River water. Last week, a bill sponsored by Representative Cynthia Lummis that would expand the storage capacity of Fontanelle Reservoir on the Green River in southwest Wyoming passed the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously.

Lummis says Wyoming needs more water to grow.

Yellowstone Cutthroat Rebounding

Feb 5, 2016
National Park Service

Yellowstone biologists are winning the war against invasive Lake Trout, and bringing back native Yellowstone Cutthroat.

Yellowstone Lake is a cold place. If you’re out on the lake even in the middle of the summer, you’ll need a jacket. So, when we went out in a boat with Yellowstone’s leader of the Cutthroat Trout restoration project, it was chilly.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest fresh water lake above 7000 feet in north America. It is also very deep, and cold. That is why non-native Lake Trout have thrived here. They evolved in the Great Lakes. 

North Dakotans Reel From Low Oil And Ag Prices

Feb 5, 2016
EMILY GUERIN / INSIDE ENERGY

On the surface, North Dakota doesn’t seem like a state full of risk-takers. It’s conservative, faith and family-oriented. Yet many people here are constantly making big bets on how much money they’re going to make next year, or whether they’re going to have a job in a  few months.

raskin227-flickr

Next week, legislators will debate whether or not to add mountain lions to the list of animals that can be legally trapped in the state. Newcastle Representative Hans Hunt is one of the bill’s sponsors. He says sportsmen and ranchers complain that mountain lions are hurting mule deer populations.

“The incidence of predator kills on deer populations in certain parts of the state has to be evidence enough that their population is certainly increasing and at a rate that’s cause for concern,” Hunt says.

The Bureau of Land Management

Several Wyoming counties are looking into ways to change wilderness study areas on Bureau of Land Management lands. Park County’s commissioners discussed the process Tuesday, and decided to give it a try.

The BLM preserves Wilderness Study Areas as undeveloped federal lands. One of Park County’s Wilderness Study Areas is on the BLM's McCullough Peaks near Cody. 

Park County Commissioner Bucky Hall says Governor Mead has asked Wyoming’s counties to start the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. 

With energy prices in a slump, oil and gas employment in Wyoming was down 30% in December from the same time in 2014, to just under 13,000 jobs. Economist David Bullard says oil prices have nose dived over the last year.

“So it's not surprising to see job loss in oil and gas here in Wyoming," Bullard says.

Oil prices are currently hovering around $30 a barrel. 

The federal government has agreed to give state regulators an extension to respond to its inquiry into potential violations of mining regulations.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, OSMRE, sent two Ten-Day Notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The notices asked the state to take a closer look at whether two bankrupt coal companies are out of compliance with federal and state mining regulations.

Stephanie Joyce

Wyoming regulators have asked for more time to respond to the federal government's concerns about potential lapses in state oversight of coal mine reclamation.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent two ten-day notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The agency believes that two bankrupt coal companies, with hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding clean up costs, could be in violation of federal mining regulations.  

Recently, new GPS technology has allowed wildlife biologists to learn much more about migration routes for big game like mule deer and pronghorn. Wyoming Game and Fish Department Deputy Chief of Wildlife Scott Smith says they aren’t just roads where animals move along quickly. Instead, they’re habitats where animals spend a lot of time each year.

That’s why, last week, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission decided it was time to adopt updated policies to protect those routes.

Stephanie Joyce

A panel that makes recommendations on whether new federal coal projects should move forward has given the green light to two proposals in Montana and Wyoming.

Cloud Peak Energy and Lighthouse Resources want to mine a combined 644 million tons of coal from government reserves. The Powder River regional coal team recommended that the Bureau of Land Management begin the environmental review process for both projects.

USFWS Mountain Prairie, Flickr Creative Commons

In the Wyoming Range in western Wyoming, mule deer numbers have plummeted by 20,000 animals since the early 90’s. One problem has been the high number of fawns that don’t make it to adulthood. Now, a new study of that herd shows a rare disease called adenovirus may be a culprit.

University of Wyoming professor Kevin Monteith is working closely with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust and Animal Damage Management Board on the study.

Yellowstone’s expert on grizzly bears says it’s time to delist them. Bear Management biologist Kerry Gunther edited the recent Yellowstone Science magazine dedicated to grizzly bear recovery.

“Where are the grizzly bears” is one of the most frequently asked questions at Yellowstone Park Entrances. That question often gets answered now.

Yellowstone Bear Management Specialist Kerry Gunther said in the early eighties it was rare to see any bear in the Park. But things have changed.

Stephanie Joyce

How much should climate change factor into decisions about coal mining on federal land? 

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A bankruptcy judge has authorized up to $12 million dollars in bonuses for executives of the bankrupt coal mining company Alpha Natural Resources.

Coal Downturn Makes It Harder To Clean Up Its Dirty Past

Jan 22, 2016
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

When she was growing up, Julie Bundy’s parents forbade her from playing on the "slate dumps." That was their shorthand for the hundred-foot-tall pile of loose rubble that sat right in the middle of Fredericktown, the southwestern Pennsylvania coal town where her grandparents lived.

“My grandparents lived in the yellow house on the corner with the slate dumps in the back yard. As long as I can remember, it was there,” Bundy says.

Bundy, 36, now lives across the street from the dumps, a coal-refuse pile left over from a defunct mining operation that ended decades ago.

The federal government sent two notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality today, wanting regulators take a closer look at hundreds of millions of dollars in clean-up costs held by two bankrupt coal companies.

It is called a Ten-Day Notice. The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) sends these out if it believes there is a violation of coal mining regulations. 

14 years ago, the state’s bighorn sheep herds were dying from pneumonia that was thought to have been contracted from grazing domestic sheep. Since then, the state has worked with wildlife advocates and ranchers on the so-called Wyoming Plan which designates areas for each species. Last year, the Legislature passed bills formally adopting the Wyoming Plan in hopes of keeping domestic sheep from spreading pneumonia to wild sheep.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The Forest Service has issued a draft environmental impact statement for a proposed rare earth metals mine in northeastern Wyoming. 

The Bear Lodge project near Sundance would be the first new rare earth mine in the United States in decades.

Rare earth elements are used in various high-tech applications, from smartphones to precision-guided missiles. Currently, most of the world’s supply comes from China. The only U.S. rare earth mine, in California, shut down last year after its parent company, Molycorp, declared bankruptcy.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The federal government has come out strongly against a proposal by bankrupt coal miner Alpha Natural Resources to pay its executives up to $12 million in bonuses. 

In filings with the bankruptcy court, the United States Trustee, an arm of the Department of Justice, excoriates the proposed bonuses, saying they are completely unjustified.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

  

In President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, there was a line that caught the ear of people in the energy industry.

“I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” he said.

Citing concerns over pricing and pollution, the Obama administration on Friday unveiled a moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands. The change won't affect existing leases, which generated nearly $1.3 billion for the government last year.

The Department of the Interior says it wants to make sure the money it's charging for coal leases takes into account both market prices and what's often called the "social costs" of coal — its impact on climate change and public health.

The agency says federal lands account for roughly 40 percent of all U.S. coal production.

nps.gov

An interagency Board of Review released a report of last summer’s fatal grizzly attack in Yellowstone National Park.

Several organizations, including representatives from the national parks, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and the U.S.G.S. Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, compiled a report on the death of Lance Crosby. Crosby was hiking alone, off trail, and without bear spray when he was attacked and killed by an adult female grizzly bear in Yellowstone last August.

Catherine Jamieson

Shipping oil by rail took off in recent years, as pipelines struggled to handle all the new crude oil being produced in the U.S. But now, with the price of oil in a slump, crude-by-rail companies are seeing their business drop off. 

Tiger Transfer Chief Operating Officer Rueben Ritthaler says now, with drilling slowing down, his rail yard is quiet.

“The pipelines are handling it, productions down and the need for the oil movement, it’s just stopped.”

White House

President Obama called for an overhaul of the nation’s energy system in his final State of the Union address. 

Obama criticized climate change deniers in the speech, saying it’s time to stop debating and start innovating. He praised investments in wind and solar energy and called for moving away from “dirty” energy sources.

“And that’s why I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet,” he said.

A militia group occupying a wildlife refuge in Oregon argues that Westerners want to turn federal lands over to states and private interests. But a new poll released Monday shows that’s not the case.

A majority of voters in seven Rocky Mountain states say they oppose state or private control of public lands. Wyoming was more split on the subject with about 54% of respondents in agreement, compared to 87% in Utah, 59% in Colorado and 63% in Arizona.

Another coal giant, with operations all over the US, declared bankruptcy today.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal hopes to get rid of $4.5 billion dollars in debt through this Chapter 11 reorganization. The company mines coal in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, and Appalachian states and says it expects operations to continue during bankruptcy proceedings.

 

U.S. coal production in 2015 was lower than it has been in nearly 30 years, according to a report released by the Energy Information Administration today. 

EIA data projects that the U.S. produced 10% less coal in 2015 than it did the year before. Analysts attribute this drop to a combination of low natural gas prices, a slowing of international demand, and environmental regulations. Brian Park, an industry economist on the EIA's coal statistics team says Appalachia has been hit hardest by far. Wyoming's Powder River Basin in comparison, has lower operating costs.

Coal-Fired Power Plants Clean Up Their Act

Jan 8, 2016
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Fron

 

In Wyoming, nearly 90 percent of electricity comes from coal.  In North Dakota, 80 percent, and in Colorado, 60 percent. Even before the Obama Administration's Clean Power Plan is implemented, these power plants must make retrofits to comply with current law that requires scrubbing emissions of dangerous air pollutants like mercury. Most of the nation's coal-fired power plants are racing to comply.

How does that retrofit happen? Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front takes us to the Homer City Generating Station in Pennsylvania to see.

Stephanie Joyce / Inside Energy

This is a story about accounting.

I know, you're already clicking out of the story, right?

But wait. This is a story about accounting for your money. Lots of money you may not even know you had. It’s buried on federal and tribal lands in the form of natural resources, in states like Wyoming and Colorado. For the past few years, a controversy has been quietly raging over how much companies owe you when they extract those resources, and how much you’re allowed to know about it.

April Barnes

You might think of the Grand Canyon as one of the wildest places in the U.S. But the fact is, the Colorado River that runs through that canyon is not wild at all. Here’s a quote from Cadillac Desert, a documentary on water in the West.

"This river, the Colorado, can be turned on and turned off down to the last drop on orders from the Interior Secretary of the United States," a voiceover tells us. "This was the first river on earth to come under complete human control."

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