Natural Resources & Energy Reporting

The Natural Resources & Energy Reporting Initiative is a component of Wyoming Public Media’s News Department. It is funded in part by the George B. Storer Foundation and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).  Content is available to Wyoming residents, and nationally and internationally to National Public Radio (NPR) entities interested in Wyoming natural resources and energy topics.

This initiative provides strong, unbiased and competent journalism content that focuses on natural resources, energy, environment and related topics. In collaboration with partners at NPR and CPB, we provide access to a variety of related public radio content.

Wyoming Public Media's Energy and Natural Resources Reporter is Stephanie Joyce.

StateImpact and Initiative stories can be found at:

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Open Spaces
4:08 pm
Fri May 2, 2014

Home Values Drop Amid Energy Booms

When there’s an energy boom, it usually brings an influx of workers into the area. And that leads to more demand for housing. That’s great for landlords who are looking to rent out their properties. But as some communities in Wyoming are finding, oil and gas drilling can actually be a problem for people who are looking to sell. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

WILLOW BELDEN: Rhonda Holdbrook owns a real estate firm in Douglas, and she’s exceptionally busy these days. Oil production in Converse County is booming, and energy workers have flocked to town.

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Open Spaces
4:03 pm
Fri May 2, 2014

Barrasso and GOP May Derail Bipartisan Energy Bill

Next week the U-S Senate is expected to have a debate on a bipartisan bill aimed at increasing energy efficiency in the U-S, but it could get derailed by an oil pipeline in the Midwest. Matt Laslo has the story from Washington on Wyoming Senator John Barrasso's role in the ongoing debate.

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News
6:20 pm
Thu May 1, 2014

Baker Hughes Announcement Could Be Good News

Last week, one of the nation’s largest suppliers of fracking chemicals said it would fully disclose the ingredients of its products. But Wyoming’s top oil and gas regulator says until he sees more information from Baker Hughes about the format of its disclosure, it’s hard to say whether it goes far enough to comply with Wyoming’s disclosure laws.

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News
9:50 am
Thu May 1, 2014

Fire At Opal Natural Gas Plant Extinguished

Explosion at the Williams Opal natural gas processing plant on April 23, 2014.
Credit Rachel Anderson

The Williams company is working to get its natural gas processing plant in Opal back up and running after an explosion and fire shut it down last week. The fire burned for five days, finally running out of fuel on Monday afternoon. In a press release, the company said it believes only one of the plant’s four units was damaged in the accident. Two of the units were back online Thursday morning.

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News
9:57 am
Tue April 29, 2014

Regulators Fault Arch Coal For Miner's Death

The Mine Safety and Health Administration says that Arch Coal could have prevented the August 2013 death of a miner at its Black Thunder facility near Wright.

Jacob Dowdy, 24, was crushed by an out-of-control shovel that rolled backwards over his pick-up truck. MSHA coal mine administrator Kevin Stricklin says if Arch had been following its own safety procedures, Dowdy wouldn’t have been behind the shovel.

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News
6:36 pm
Mon April 28, 2014

Natural Gas Fire Still Burning

A small fire continues to burn at a western Wyoming natural gas processing plant idled by an explosion since last week.

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Open Spaces
3:14 pm
Fri April 25, 2014

Underground Coal Gasification: A Potential Energy Frontier?

Linc Energy has installed 44 monitoring wells at its proposed test site, to establish baseline water quality.
Stephanie Joyce

Millions of railcars leave the Powder River Basin every year, carrying hundreds of millions of tons of coal. Those are big numbers, but the coal we mine is just a small fraction of what’s underground. Most of the basin’s coal reserves are buried too deep for conventional mining.

An Australian company called Linc Energy wants to use a technology known as underground coal gasification to tap those deep coal reserves and turn them into fuel. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, that might come at the peril of another valuable resource: water.

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News
5:46 pm
Thu April 24, 2014

Arch Coal Writes Off Investment in DKRW Coal-To-Gas Project

In the latest sign of a shaky future for the nation’s first coal-to-gas conversion plant, one of the project’s major investors has written it off as a loss. Ben Storrow of the Casper Star-Tribune has been following the development and spoke with Wyoming Public Radio energy reporter Stephanie Joyce about what it means for the future of the project.

 

STEPHANIE JOYCE: So, to start, for any of our listeners who might be at little fuzzy on the details of the DKRW Advanced Fuels project, can you give us the 30-second overview of its history?

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News
4:51 pm
Thu April 24, 2014

Baker Hughes Pledges To Fully Disclose Fracking Chemicals

One of the country’s largest suppliers of hydraulic fracturing chemicals says going forward, it will fully disclose the ingredients that make up those chemicals and their maximum concentrations in the frac fluid.

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News
11:50 am
Thu April 24, 2014

State Looks Into Allegations Of Environmental Harm By Linc Energy

The state has requested information from Australian regulators about alleged environmental crimes by Linc Energy. The company operates an underground coal gasification project in Australia and wants to the do the same here in Wyoming.

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News
11:44 am
Thu April 24, 2014

Opal Remains Evacuated After Explosion At Gas Plant

The explosion at the Williams company's Opal natural gas processing plant.
Credit Rachel Anderson

UPDATE 04/24 12:45pm: The evacuation order has been lifted, residents are being allowed to return to their homes. 

Original story:

An evacuation order remains in effect for residents of Opal after an explosion at a nearby natural gas processing plant Wednesday night.

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News
4:49 pm
Wed April 23, 2014

Opal Evacuated After Explosion At Nearby Gas Plant

A town in southwest Wyoming has been evacuated after an explosion at a nearby natural gas processing plant. The explosion at the Williams plant near Opal happened around 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Lincoln County Emergency Management spokesman Stephen Malik said that as of 4 p.m. there was still an ongoing fire, but that gas has been shut off to the facility. In addition to the evacuation of Opal's hundred residents, highways 30 and 284 between Opal and Kemmerer have been shut down.

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News
7:14 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

DEQ Says Jurisdictional Issues Will Limit Their Rulemaking Authority Near Pinedale

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is drafting rules to curb emissions near Pinedale, but the agency says there are some limitations to what they’ll be able to do.

The Pinedale area violates federal air quality standards because of pollution from natural gas development. DEQ has already imposed stricter rules on new energy equipment, and now they plan to limit emissions from older, grandfathered facilities, as well. But spokesman Keith Guille says they aren't able to regulate everything.

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News
4:59 pm
Tue April 22, 2014

Rail Congestion Curbs Coal Shipments

Arch Coal executives expressed frustration with the nation’s two biggest railroads during a conference call with investors Tuesday. Coal shipments out of the Powder River Basin have been delayed in recent months because of congestion on the BNSF and Union Pacific main lines. Arch Coal CEO John Eaves said it’s hurting the company’s earnings.

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Topic of the Week
9:00 am
Mon April 21, 2014

What are your thoughts on the proposed Rare Earth Mine near Sundance?

What are your thoughts on the proposed Rare Earth Mine near Sundance?

WPM/NPR Community Discussion Rules

News
6:59 pm
Wed April 16, 2014

Sinclair Refinery Is Fined Again

The Sinclair Refinery is being cited with seven safety violations and over 200-thousand dollars in fines for an explosion and fire at its refinery near Rawlins last fall. 

Wyoming’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA says that two of the violations were willful.  The company has been fined numerous times in the past for a variety of fires, explosions, and other issues. 

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News
8:02 am
Wed April 16, 2014

Setback Rule Review A Priority For Oil And Gas Commission

Interim Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson
Credit Willow Belden

Interim Oil and Gas Supervisor Mark Watson says he's making it a priority to review Wyoming's setback rules.

Setback rules govern how close oil and gas development can be to things like houses and streams. The current limit is 350 feet.

At an Oil and Gas Commission meeting Tuesday night in Casper, several residents said they'd like to see the distance raised to a mile, because of concerns about potential health impacts of energy production. Watson says they're asking a lot.

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News
5:37 pm
Mon April 14, 2014

Linc Energy Charged With Causing Environmental Harm In Australia

A company proposing to open an underground coal gasification demonstration site in Wright has been charged with environmental violations in Australia.  The charges could cost the company over two million dollars per violation.

Underground coal gasification involves igniting coal seams deep underground to produce syngas, which can then be processed into various liquid fuels or other chemicals.     

What exactly the environmental harm is has not yet been revealed.

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News
6:23 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

First U.S. Rare Earth Minerals Mine In Decades Could Be In Wyoming

The first rare earth minerals mine to open in the U.S. in decades could be here in Wyoming. Permitting gets underway this week for the Bear Lodge mine, near Sundance. Rare earths are a group of metals that are critical to high tech devices like smartphones and lasers. They’re currently mined almost exclusively in China. Rare Element Resources’ George Byers says the company is hoping to change that.

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Open Spaces
4:21 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

Rare Earth Mine Permitting Gets Underway

Rare Element Resources wants to build a processing plant on this site, just outside of Upton.
Stephanie Joyce

They’ve been called the secret ingredient of everything. Rare earths are a group of elements that make much of today’s technology possible, from smartphones to wind turbines to precision-guided missiles. For decades, China has dominated the rare earth market, but amid questions about the wisdom of allowing one country to control the supply chain, a mining project in Wyoming is getting underway. As Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, if the mine opens, it would be only be the second one in the United States and the first new one in decades.

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Open Spaces
4:10 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

Pinedale Air Improves As State Toughens Industry Regs

Drill rigs like this one are one source of emissions that could be contributing to ozone formation in Sublette County.
Credit Willow Belden

Several years ago, there were days when air pollution in Pinedale was worse than in Los Angeles. Residents complained of respiratory problems, and visits to local medical clinics increased.  In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency said the area was violating federal air quality standards, and gave Wyoming three years to fix the problem. Since then, air quality has been better. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports, nobody knows whether the problem is really fixed, and some worry that the state is not doing enough to prevent similar problems from happening elsewhere.

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Open Spaces
4:04 pm
Fri April 11, 2014

Frac Sand Poses Potential Health Problem For Workers

Credit Andrew Link | Winona (Minn.) Daily News

It’s been called miner's phthisis, grinder's asthma, potter's rot. Silicosis is a disease of the lungs that’s caused by inhaling tiny particles of crystalline silica dust, basically sand. Those particles cut the lung tissue, causing inflammation and scarring that make it difficult to breathe.

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News
5:38 pm
Thu April 10, 2014

Groups Disagree On Implications Of New Federal Energy Production Data

Recently released data compiled by the federal government shows oil production on federal lands is up from last year, while natural gas production is down. Overall, the energy sector is booming, but industry analysts say companies are shifting from natural gas to wetter plays because of low natural gas prices. But even though production is up, some industry groups point out that it's increasing more quickly on private lands and blame the trend on slow permitting by the federal government.

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News
9:59 am
Tue April 8, 2014

Task Force On Forests Makes Progress

A group tasked with making recommendations about forest policy in Wyoming is meeting this week in Saratoga.

Originally called the Governor’s Forest Health Task Force, the group dropped that name after members couldn’t agree on what constitutes forest health. Jessica Crowder, with the Governor’s office, says the new name, Task Force on Forests, better reflects the broad range of management ideas the group is considering.

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News
5:58 pm
Thu April 3, 2014

Orphaned Well Meeting Draws Crowd

Credit NETL/DOE

The state held its first-ever public meeting about the issue of orphaned and idle gas wells Wednesday in Gillette. 

The coal bed methane boom left more than a thousand potentially hazardous, abandoned wells on state and private lands in Wyoming, and landowners turned out in droves to learn about the Governor’s plan for plugging them.

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News
10:17 am
Wed April 2, 2014

Oil And Gas Producer Fined For Late Production Reports

The federal Office of Natural Resources Revenue, or ONRR, has fined a Wyoming oil and gas producer $204,362 for not submitting timely production reports for its federal leases. Matrix Production Company was issued two notices of noncompliance before ONRR levied the penalties. ONRR spokesman, Patrick Etchart, says the production reports are used to keep companies in check.   

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News
3:53 pm
Mon March 31, 2014

Wyoming Oil And Gas Supervisor Resigns

Grant Black
Credit LinkedIn

After less than a year on the job, Wyoming’s oil and gas supervisor is resigning, effective Tuesday. Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Chair Bridget Hill declined to comment on Grant Black’s sudden resignation other than to say the Commission accepted it unanimously and thanked him for his service. Black didn’t return a call for comment.

The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is scheduled to begin a major review of rules dealing with setbacks, flaring and bonding in April. Hill says that process will continue.

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News
3:15 pm
Mon March 31, 2014

Encana Sells Wyoming Natural Gas Field

In the latest sign of an industry-wide move away from natural gas, Encana is selling its Jonah Field properties. For more than a decade, Encana has been one of the largest natural gas producers in Wyoming thanks to the field near Pinedale, but company spokesperson Doug Hock says moving forward, Encana is trying to diversify its assets.

“So that we’re not tied to one particular commodity. Or we’ve got more flexibility in terms of oil versus natural gas,” Hock says.

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News
10:02 am
Mon March 31, 2014

UW Students And Gov. Mead Learn About Coal Technologies in Australia

Governor Matt Mead recently attended an Advanced Coal Technology Conference in Australia.  Eight students from the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources joined him.

Graduate student Mary Kate McCarney is a geochemist who attended the coal conference.  She said she appreciated the fact that students were included in the conversation at the conference.

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News
2:25 pm
Sat March 29, 2014

Barrasso Wants To Use Wyo. Gas As Weapon Against Russia

Lawmakers in Washington are debating whether to export more natural gas to combat Russian threats to cut off its gas supplies to Europe. Our D-C reporter  Matt Laslo has a look at what that could mean for Wyoming’s economy – and environment.

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