Natural Resources & Energy

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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. 

Melodie Edwards

When it comes to the spread of disease from domestic sheep to bighorn sheep, it’s not that different from the arrival of Europeans in the Americas when small pox and other diseases killed millions of indigenous people. Without a built-in immunity, pneumonia can wipe out an entire bighorn sheep herd in no time. And that’s why, last week, the Wyoming legislature passed a pair of historic bills that will effectively keep the two species apart.

Dan Boyce

It’s no secret that America’s roads are in trouble.

Our highways, interstates and bridges are crumbling and there's an estimated $90 billion dollar annual shortfall in funding to make the fixes. So, now would be a good time to raise gas taxes, right? That’s the main funding source for road infrastructure, has been for decades. Wyoming, and Iowa have raised theirs in recent years, other states are considering it. But, as Dan Boyce with our Inside Energy team tells us, gas taxes are not a long-term solution.

The Jackson elk herd is not wintering in locations that the Wyoming Game and Fish Department say can support such high numbers. While the overall population of 11,000 is healthy, several locations have more elk than they can support.

The National Elk Refuge and the Snake River Corridor areas are both bursting at the seams with elk this winter. Game and Fish Spokesman Mark Gocke says two issues are to blame animals are migrating down from better range to the north and they have unusually high birth rates this year. He says hunting could help the problem.

Willow Belden

Wyoming regulators have backtracked on a threat that Cirque Resources would face severe consequences if it didn’t figure out a way to curb the burning off of natural gas from the company’s oil wells in Laramie County.

Stephanie Joyce

People packed into a public hearing Monday about proposed changes to the rules governing how far oil and gas drilling has to be from homes and schools. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing to increase the "setback" distance from 350 feet to 500 feet. 

But Chuck White, who lives east of Cheyenne, told the Commission that 500 feet simply isn’t far enough for modern drilling operations.

One of the world’s largest coal companies has withdrawn its application for a federal coal lease in the Powder River Basin. Arch Coal’s move is part of a bigger slow down in sales of Wyoming coal leases. According to the Bureau of Land Management, there are currently six leases pending. But the last one that was actually sold was in 2012. 

On Monday, Gov. Matt Mead signed legislation that would allow the state to finance the construction of coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.  

A bill headed to the Governor's desk allows the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority to issue up to one billion dollars in bonds to support construction of out-of-state coal ports.  Senator Michael Von Flatern says the bill allows the Authority to borrow money from investors for the bond, which can then be lent to projects elsewhere.

“A great morale booster by the way, so if the state’s showing that it’s willing to put up bonding ability, or allow an authority to have bonding ability it may make a project look more viable than if we weren’t gonna put any skin in the game.”

Wyoming’s largest investor-owned electric utility is asking to raise its rates in 2016. Rocky Mountain Power submitted a request to the Public Service Commission this week for a 4.5 percent overall increase. The company estimates that would translate to roughly an extra $5 charge on residential customers’ monthly bills. Bryce Freeman, administrator of the Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate, says the request doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

On Monday, Governor Matt Mead signed a bill that reopens the debate over teaching climate change science in schools. The Next Generation Science Standards, known as NGSS, include the concept that climate change is real and largely caused by man. In Wyoming, and a handful of other states, that’s controversial. So last year, the state legislature banned discussion to adopt them.  

Pete Gosar, Chairman of the Wyoming Board of Education, says the board now plans to begin debating the standards at their March meeting.  

The State of Wyoming is moving forward with plans to take over regulation of the uranium industry from the federal government. Governor Matt Mead signed legislation on Friday that starts the process of transferring oversight from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality. The transfer is expected to cost the state $4.2 million, which industry will pay back over the course of roughly 12 years by taking on the expense of several positions currently paid for out of the general fund.

Asher Jay

A wildlife advocacy group in Jackson wants to convince the public that the use of traps for hunting is inhumane, and they’re using art to convey their message.

The group, Wyoming Untrapped, has commissioned an internationally renowned environmental artist to show the value of free-roaming wild animals such as bob cats and coyotes that traditionally are some of trapper’s favorite targets.

Creative Energies

    

With its big blue skies and high altitude, Wyoming's solar potential is among the best in the nation, but even as residential rooftop solar has boomed recently in places like California, Colorado and New Jersey, it's barely made any inroads in the state. Economics and politics both play a role, but with the price of photovoltaics continuing to drop, some people are starting to ask whether momentum is building for solar in nation's largest coal-producing state. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The American landscape is dotted with over 100,000 deep injection wells. They’re a key part of our energy infrastructure. Without them, you probably wouldn't be able to fill up your tank. Because for every barrel of oil that comes out of the ground, salty and sometimes chemically-laced fluid comes up with it. This so-called produced water has to go somewhere - and much of it injected back into the earth. In the first of a 2 part series, Inside Energy’s Leigh Paterson reports on one company’s bid to get in the game.

INSIDE ENERGY: Residents Worry About Wastewater Disposal Well In Western Nebraska

Feb 27, 2015
NET News

A Colorado based oil company has applied for a permit to operate a wastewater injection well in Western Nebraska. In today’s story, Bill Kelly of NET News in Nebraska reports that a deeper look into the finances of the company behind the application is causing concern.

Stephanie Joyce

A year ago, a petroleum engineering degree seemed like the ticket to a bright and well-paid future. With six-figure starting salaries for a bachelor’s degree and endless optimism about the shale revolution, enrollment climbed rapidly in petroleum engineering programs across the country. But now that the oil price slide has turned to an oil price slump, the luster is wearing off.

When Evan Lowry first enrolled at the University of Wyoming, his plan was to be a chemical engineer, like his dad, but the oil industry was booming and he quickly changed his mind.

Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons

  

Republicans in the U.S. House have created a new position charged with overseeing the Interior of the United States, which includes the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is being tapped to head up the new investigative subcommittee. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is famous for dragging in Major League Baseball players during the steroid scandal.

The Bureau of Land Management will reopen the wild horse facility in Rock Springs at the end of this month with an adoption event.

The agency is looking for people able to give wild horses a good home. The horses range from weanlings to geldings and mares.

The agency manages wild horses and burros on public lands. The animals don’t have any natural predators and are illegal to hunt. So if the number of horses and burros for a grazing area becomes too high, the BLM rounds them up for holding facilities or adoption.

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson has completed their annual classification count. For the second year in a row more than 8,000 wintering elk were counted, well over the refuge’s 5,000 elk goal.

That goal comes from the refuge’s 15 year management plan which began in 2007. The plan outlines sustainable elk and bison populations for habitat conservation and disease management in the Jackson area. The refuge has been trying to reduce the animal’s reliance on winter feeding at the refuge.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Energy storage will be a key part of the grid of the future, according to industry experts speaking at this month’s Wyoming Infrastructure Authority conference. Currently, power generation and consumption are balanced in real-time, but storage would allow power generated now to be consumed later.

“You know, I can envision a day when right next to your hot water heater you have a battery," said Mark Lauby, vice president of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the agency that oversees the power grid. "You store it up during the day and use it at night.”

114,000 new acres of bark beetle kill has been detected in an aerial survey done by the State Forestry Division for 2014. Most of that is in Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests. 

Les Koch is the division’s Forest Health Specialist and says while warmer weather didn’t help in deterring the Pine, Spruce, and Douglas-Fir beetles, they have already killed many of their suitable host trees. While 2014 did see an increase in acres affected, over the last few years the overall trend has been downward.  

Above-average temperatures mean grizzly bears have started to emerge from hibernation in Yellowstone National Park. Over the last five years grizzlies have tended to emerge during the first half of March, which puts Monday’s first sighting of activity 2-4 weeks sooner than usual.

Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash says that could be a problem for visitors who are more used to preparing for potential grizzly encounters in the warm summer months.

A Wyoming hunter now holds the world record for the largest elk killed with a crossbow. Albert Henderson took the elk in the Shoshone National Forest during last fall’s crossbow season.

The elk scored 408 points on the Boone and Crockett scoring system. Wyoming Game and Fish spokesman Al Langston says it takes an exceptional hunter to make such a clean kill with a crossbow since it means getting very close to make a shot.

Wyoming is planning to send a delegation to Washington State later this year to lobby on behalf of coal export terminals. Last year, the state invited members of eight Pacific Northwest tribes to visit Wyoming on an all-expenses paid tour of the region’s coal mines, but only one tribe accepted the invitation. Now, the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority is hoping to take the tour to them. According to Loyd Drain, the agency's director, WIA will host two meetings in Washington later this year in an effort to convince tribes that coal exports are a good thing.

A conference in Torrington on Wednesday will explore the economic benefits of organic farming in arid climates like Wyoming and Nebraska.

Speakers at the conference will offer advice on a wide range of subjects including how to get certified as an organic farm, composting and growing potatoes for organic starch. Event organizer and soil fertility specialist Jay Norton says the event is not meant to stir debate of the merits of organic versus conventional farming. 

Kim Seng, Flickr Creative Commons

The senior wildlife biologist at Grand Teton National Park is retiring after 26 years on the job. During his tenure, Steve Cain worked with state and other wildlife managers to improve conditions for wildlife, not just in the park, but across the 22-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Rebecca Huntington has more.
 

HUNTINGTON: When Steve Cain first came to Grand Teton in 1989, he was the only biologist, alongside a fisheries expert, overseeing the park's wildlife. The tools he had to work with were pretty limited.

Yellowstone Celebrates 20 Years With Wolves

Feb 6, 2015
Yellowstone National Park

Wolves were brought back to Yellowstone 20 years ago this week. They had been missing from the Park’s landscape for almost 70 years. Their reintroduction caught the world’s attention. But wolves are still controversial and still federally protected in Wyoming.

Humans standing alongside the road howled as Canadian wolves were carried into Yellowstone through the Roosevelt arch in January 1995. Excited tourists came from around the world to watch in them Lamar Valley the next spring. They followed the animals through spotting scopes.

Wikimedia Commons

In recent years there’s been plenty of discussion and a lot of worry in Wyoming about the future of coal. Politicians have blamed the federal government for the coal industry's struggles and pushed for coal export terminals to save it. But until now, there’s been very little data to back up the talk. This week, economists at the University of Wyoming previewed a study looking at coal’s role in the state economy as well as its prospects for the future. Rob Godby is the Director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy and lead author of the report.

INSIDE ENERGY: Meet The Men Who Study Man Camps

Feb 6, 2015
Andrew Cullen

“Man camps,” or temporary worker housing, are a defining characteristic of an oil boom. Development happens so fast, there’s never enough time to build adequate permanent housing. When oil prices come crashing down, the man camps empty out.

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