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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Luca
5:49 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Luca bankruptcy reveals bonding issues

Bankrupt methane farming company Luca Technologies is planning to walk away from its wells on federal lands in Wyoming without plugging them. The company and its subsidiaries have between four and five hundred wells on federal lands, and COO Brian Cree says it's unlikely there will be enough money to clean them up.

“Those wells will just be turned back over to the federal government, and the federal government will be in a position to use their resources to plug and abandon those wells," Cree says.

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News
4:46 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

Federal fracking rule criticized by states, industry

The federal rule on hydraulic fracturing proposed by the Bureau of Land Management came under fire today from state and industry representatives at an energy law conference. The regulations establish nationwide standards for cementing wells and disclosure of chemicals used in fracking fluids.

Wyoming already has regulations in place for fracking and industry representatives say a federal rule would kowtow to environmental groups, infringe on states’ ability to control their water supply, and wear away states’ rights.

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News
4:44 pm
Wed November 13, 2013

A conversation about greenhouse gas regulations is needed, says WY lawmaker

At today’s energy law conference in Laramie, one Wyoming lawmaker urged the state to be proactive in the discussion about greenhouse gas regulations.

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Baseline testing
8:44 am
Wed November 13, 2013

Wyoming adopts baseline testing rule

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hears from the baseline testing working group at a hearing in Casper on November 12, 2013.
Credit Stephanie Joyce

On Tuesday, Wyoming joined the growing list of states that will require groundwater testing at oil and gas wells before and after drilling occurs.  The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted to require three rounds of testing at water wells within a half-mile of the drilling pad.

Companies will have to test for a variety of potential contaminants in the water, from volatile organic compounds to bacteria.
In comments following the vote, Governor Matt Mead praised his fellow commissioners for approving the rules.

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News
5:25 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

Report calls for better oversight of oil and gas production

Current regulations are inadequate for monitoring and controlling oil and gas development, according to a new report from a coalition of western resource councils. In particular, the report focuses on the potential problems surrounding treatment and disposal of produced water, the contaminated water that's pulled up along with oil in the drilling process.

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Open Spaces
4:01 pm
Fri November 8, 2013

Converse County wrestles with development planning

An existing natural gas processing facility north of Douglas
Credit Stephanie Joyce

Converse County is one of six counties in Wyoming with no land use regulations. When a proposal to develop zoning came up a decade ago, it went nowhere. But as development associated with the oil and gas boom in the Niobrara explodes, the county is struggling with questions of how to make sure it happens responsibly. And as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, some residents are starting to question the costs of not planning.

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News
5:55 pm
Wed November 6, 2013

Wyoming scores poor marks in energy efficiency

Wyoming comes in just about dead last in the nation when it comes to energy efficiency. That’s according to the latest annual report from The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

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News
5:17 pm
Wed November 6, 2013

Encana breaks ground on water treatment facility

Encana broke ground today on a treatment facility for produced water -- the contaminated water that's pulled up along with oil in the drilling process. The Neptune Water Treatment Facility will sit outside of Casper and serve the Moneta Divide field, which currently has about 300 wells but could eventually have more than 4-thousand. The facility will treat some of the produced water from current wells. A controversial plan to inject wastewater into the Madison Aquifer is another water disposal method Encana plans to use in the field.

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News
9:15 am
Tue November 5, 2013

Uranium mine nears end of permitting process

Wyoming’s newest uranium mine is on the cusp of receiving permits from the federal government.

The Bureau of Land Management released a final environmental impact statement for the proposed Gas Hills Uranium Mine last week. The mine would be located roughly 45 miles east of Riverton, and would supply the Smith Ranch-Highland production facility in Converse County.

Cameco Resources is proposing in-situ mining for the Gas Hills project. That involves using underground chemical washing to extract the uranium.

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Peak Coal
9:43 am
Fri November 1, 2013

Environmental group warns that "peak coal" is past

 Amid a slew of disappointing quarterly financial results from Powder River Basin coal companies, some groups are raising questions about the commodity’s long-term viability.

The Boulder-based environmental group Clean Energy Action released a report Wednesday that predicts the country has already passed “peak coal” and that production will continue to decline because of rising costs. They include Powder River Basin coal in that prediction, even though it has the lowest production costs in the country.

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News
6:51 pm
Wed October 30, 2013

Low prices prompt coal production cuts

With continued weak prices for coal, one of Wyoming’s largest coal companies is planning to reduce production.

During a meeting with investors to discuss third quarter results, Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall said the company is looking to cut 10 million tons at the Cordero Rojo mine near Gillette in 2015. That’s roughly 10 percent of the company’s overall production in the Powder River Basin.

Marshall said the plan won’t change unless prices rebound significantly.

“We're going down until things change enough to make it worthwhile going up.”

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Legislative
6:47 pm
Wed October 30, 2013

Committee votes to reduce interest rates on unpaid mineral taxes

The Legislature’s Revenue Committee strongly supported a bill Tuesday that would lower interest rates on unpaid mineral taxes.

Currently, if a state audit finds that companies have incorrectly reported their production, counties can levy interest of up to 18 percent on back taxes.

The bill changes that, pegging interest to current rates, with a minimum of 12 percent and a maximum of 18 percent. Interest rates for companies that discover the discrepancy on their own would remain the same – at 18 percent.

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News
6:50 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Sinclair fined $707,000 for safety violations

The Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company is being fined more than $700,000 for safety violations at its Rawlins facility.

Wyoming’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, inspected the facility in May, following an employee complaint and several toxic gas releases. They found that Sinclair had willfully violated various safety regulations and failed to fix hazards that could have resulted in death or serious physical harm.

Workforce Services Director Joan Evans says the company is trying to fix the problems.

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Legislative
6:45 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Bill to tax natural gas flaring dies in committee

A legislative committee killed a bill Tuesday that would have taxed natural gas flaring from oil wells.

When there isn’t pipeline or processing infrastructure available to move the natural gas, companies simply burn it. The draft bill would have required severance tax payments on gas flared more than 180 days after the well starts producing. Representative Michael Madden, one of two supporters of the bill, said the proposal wasn’t a tax increase, but rather the repeal of an exemption.

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News
5:03 pm
Tue October 29, 2013

Wyoming's NRCS office probed for mismanagement

The Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Wyoming office has mismanaged at least $14 million in easement payments, and employs supervisors who lack the knowledge to properly administer easement programs in the state. That’s according to a report from the Office of Inspector General. Easements are used to permanently retire a piece of land for conservation purposes.

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EITI
6:56 am
Mon October 28, 2013

Transparency initiative targets extractive industries

Nearly half of Wyoming is federal land, and the government collects billions of dollars in taxes and royalties every year from industries using that land. But it isn’t always clear where that money goes, and who benefits from it. Now, an international initiative is trying to change that.

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Open Spaces
3:59 pm
Fri October 25, 2013

An unlikely pastime: in pursuit of alternative nuclear power

Dave Earnshaw, in front of one of the sites he envisions could house a liquid fluoride thorium reactor someday.
Credit Stephanie Joyce

Many retired people take up a hobby -- knitting, bird watching, bingo. But two Laramie retirees have decided to spend their days in pursuit of a decidedly less mainstream pastime: solving the energy challenges of our time. Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce has the story.

STEPHANIE JOYCE: It’s a sunny fall day, and Dave Earnshaw is standing outside the central energy plant at the University of Wyoming, staring out over the empty field that sits next to it.

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CREG Mineral
9:00 am
Fri October 25, 2013

Mineral revenues stay strong amid production declines

Tom Drean, Wyoming State Geologist
Credit Wyoming State Geological Survey

Wyoming’s minerals revenue is expected to stay steady, even while natural gas and coal production fall. That’s according to the latest projections from the state’s Consensus Revenue Estimating Group – or CREG.

State geologist Tom Drean is a member of the group. He says the declining production will likely be offset by rising prices for natural gas, as well as increased oil production.

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News
4:54 pm
Tue October 22, 2013

Proposed natural gas plant kindles air quality concerns in Douglas

Douglas residents are concerned about emissions from a proposed natural gas processing plant on the outskirts of town. Texas-based Crestwood Midstream Partners’ Douglas facility would process 120 million cubic feet of raw natural gas per day. Residents wrote to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, worried about carbon dioxide and formaldehyde emissions, among other things.

Cole Anderson is in charge of Wyoming’s air quality permitting process. He says the DEQ  has reviewed the company’s proposed emissions, and found them to meet state standards.

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Open Spaces
5:57 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Groundwater testing near oil and gas wells: how much data is enough?

Geologicresources monitoring

A proposal to test water quality at oil and gas wells before and after drilling is making its way through the rulemaking process. The governor’s office and industry hope it will answer some of the questions surrounding groundwater contamination near oil and gas development, but as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, the rule may not actually be able to answer the question of who’s responsible, if contamination occurs, and that has some people questioning whether it’s valuable at all.

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Open Spaces
5:49 pm
Fri October 18, 2013

Author of “Coal in Campbell County” talks about her motivation for writing about coal

Mary Kelley

Mary Kelley is the author of Coal in Campbell County, a book that traces the lineage of each of Gillette’s major coal companies in the area. It’s her second book about the coal industry in Gillette. She and her husband both worked for the AMAX coal company for many years. Kelley told Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov that she wanted to preserve the history of the coal companies, but also show how they helped create a good life for people like her in Campbell County.

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News
7:01 am
Thu October 17, 2013

Oil industry faces mounting wastewater challenge

Credit www.daveshowalter.com

Disposing of oil’s biggest byproduct is going to be a challenge for Wyoming in coming years. That was the takeaway from a panel discussion Wednesday about water use and energy development.

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News
6:37 pm
Wed October 16, 2013

Bird migration routes coincide with high wind potential in Wyoming

Where exactly do migratory birds stop on their way across Wyoming? A new study answers that question for the first time, with any eye towards discouraging wind development in those places.

Study leader Amy Pocewicz is a landscape ecologist with The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming. She says the results show a lot of potential for conflict.

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News
9:45 am
Thu October 10, 2013

Deal renews controversy over sage grouse protections

Credit Wikipedia

A deal to allow oil and gas development in a sage grouse conservation area near Douglas met considerable resistance when it was announced last month. Environmental groups said it set a dangerous precedent, and showed the state isn’t serious about keeping the bird off the endangered species list. The state said it was a necessary compromise that protects sage grouse while respecting private mineral rights.

Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce takes a look at tensions in the state’s sage grouse conservation strategy, five years after its implementation.

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Uranium agreement
6:35 pm
Fri October 4, 2013

Uranium producers continue to push for state regulation

If Wyoming wants to take over regulation of uranium, thorium and other radioactive materials from the federal government, it’s going to be a lot of work. That was the message the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality delivered to a legislative committee last week.

The agency won’t release a final feasibility report until December, but deputy director Nancy Nuttbrock said legislators should brace themselves for a complicated, and expensive, process.

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WindTurbine
7:30 am
Fri October 4, 2013

An inside look at harnessing the wind

Tour group gathers in front of the High Plains Wind Farm
Stephanie Joyce

On a recent Saturday, about 50 people gathered in Laramie for a day-long renewable energy tour. Put on by Rocky Mountain Power, it included talks and presentations by industry and academics, but the highlight was a visit to the 66-turbine High Plains wind farm, near Rock River.

Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce joined the tour, and brings us this postcard from the inside of a wind turbine.

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StateLands
8:03 pm
Wed October 2, 2013

Leadership Changes at State Lands Office

The governor has appointed a new Director of State Lands. Bridget Hill will take over the post from Ryan Lance later this month, when he moves on to a job in the private sector.

The Office of State Lands and Investments manages millions of acres of surface and mineral estate in Wyoming, generating revenues to fund schools and other public services.

Lance served as director for two and a half years. During his tenure he pushed for rules to govern flaring from natural gas wells on state lands.

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Legislative
6:50 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

Legislators want to see faster progress on abandoned wells solution

Credit Irina Zhorov

A legislative committee would like to see faster progress on a program to plug abandoned oil and gas wells. That was the message for Oil and Gas Supervisor Grant Black at a meeting of the legislature’s Minerals Committee today.

Committee members criticized Black for not providing a concrete plan for plugging or repurposing the wells. There are currently 1,200 orphaned wells in the state, and that number is expected to double in the next year.

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Legislative
6:44 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

Oil & gas regulators look at protecting state from bad actors

Oil and gas operators need more insurance, or bonding. That’s what the leaders of several state agencies told the legislature’s Minerals Committee at a meeting today. They said there’s a gap in how much money is available and how much is needed to deal with abandoned oil and gas wells. The question is: where will that money come from?

Oil and Gas Commission Supervisor, Grant Black, says the bonding structure can be changed to avoid similar problems in the future.  

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News
6:12 pm
Thu September 26, 2013

Natural gas flaring in state improving, but still an issue

Credit Willow Belden

There are fewer companies flaring off natural gas today than there were six months ago. In March, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had 65 flaring authorizations.  Members of the Legislatures Minerals Committee were told by Commission Supervisor Grant Black that now there is about half that number. He also said that companies generally request flaring permits when a compressor is down or there is no pipeline to get the gas to market and they’re seeing much less of the latter.

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