Natural Resources & Energy

Click here for more information on Wyoming Public Media's Natural Resources & Energy.


In recent years, solar energy has gone from the fringe to mainstream. Solar costs have dropped dramatically while solar installations have similarly increased. Solar still provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s power, and in states like Wyoming, it’s virtually nonexistent. But many predict solar power will play a much larger role in the future.

Bob Beck


Last weekend Wyoming’s annual sage grouse hunt began. Many hunters were worried that this could be the last hunt in a while, since the bird was facing the possibility of getting listed as an endangered species. When the chicken-sized bird started seeing declines in the 1990’s, some states stopped sage grouse hunting altogether. Wyoming continued its hunt after changing the start date and limiting the take. That will continue, even as the state continues mandated conservation efforts. 

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

Driving around the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming with Jeff Gillum and Jeff Campbell is like playing an extended game of “Where’s Waldo?”

Where most people would see a yard full of heavy machinery or an unassuming patch of prairie, Campbell and Gillum are constantly spotting coal bed methane wells. They point out the signature tan well houses everywhere as we drive around Gillette: in people’s front yards, in a storage company’s parking lot, even at the end of the driving range at the golf course.

Melodie Edwards


You might have heard a strange sound this last Tuesday morning around 10 a.m. It was a sigh of relief from ranchers, oil and gas workers and miners all over the West at the announcement that the greater sage grouse won't be listed as an endangered species. But you probably also heard the slapping of foreheads from wildlife advocates who say the grouse needs full federal protections if it’s going to survive.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

In Chinese cities like Taiyuan and Beijing, smog hangs heavy, blocking skyscrapers from view. It irritates your lungs and eyes. On a recent trip to China’s largest coal producing province, I even felt like I could taste the pollution.



The National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS, turns 50 years old this Fall. The organization teaches outdoor safety and wilderness medicine and also has programs for leadership, networking, and general adventure in the outdoors.

NOLS was founded in Wyoming and is still headquartered in Lander, where it serves tens of thousands of students each year. Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard caught up with John Gans, the executive director at NOLS, to hear his take on the school’s 50-year legacy.

The National Outdoor Leadership School, or NOLS, turns 50 years old this fall.

The organization was founded in Wyoming in 1965 and is still headquartered in Lander. But in its fifty-year history, the school has offered courses on all seven continents. NOLS teaches outdoor safety and wilderness medicine, and it also has programs for leadership, networking, and general adventure in the outdoors.

John Gans, the executive director at NOLS, says what sets the school apart from other programs is its staff.

In Tuesday’s announcement that the greater sage grouse will not be listed as an endangered species, the state of Wyoming got a lot of the credit by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Dan Ashe who said the state's strategy for bringing the bird back from the brink showed long range vision.

“I have to point out singularly the leadership from the state of Wyoming in designing the Core Area Strategy back in 2008. Because it was Wyoming’s leadership that showed us what was possible for sage grouse conservation.”

Ladder Ranch

Wyoming Ranchers are among those who are pleased with the U.S. Department of the Interior’s decision not to list the Greater Sage Grouse as an endangered species.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell said in her announcement that one of the main reasons the bird wasn’t listed was the cooperation among individuals, industry, and government in conservation efforts.

Pat O’toole runs the Ladder Ranch in Savery, Wyoming. He says his ranch took several steps to help Sage Grouse – from putting land in conservation easements to creating more sage brush habitat.

Wikimedia Commons

Yellowstone is heading for a record tourist season.

At every Yellowstone attraction, there were crowds this summer. There were lines of people with cameras and spotting scopes roadside, and miles long traffic jams when motorists failed to pull over for the iconic park wildlife.

More than 3 million visitors were in the Park by the end of August. Records were set every summer month. Gateway communities like Cody benefited. The owner of the Proud Cut Saloon, Del Nose, said it was busy.

Wikimedia Commons

With the decision not to list sage grouse as an endangered species, a new federal report says the current approach is effectively isolating the birds from each other like animals in a zoo.

U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Steven Knick worked on the report, and he says many of the sage grouse protected areas are like small islands scattered around the 11 Western states of its range.

Wyoming Department of Workforce Services

Wyoming saw a large year-over-year increase in worker deaths in 2014. Thirty-seven workers died on the job last year, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s up from 26 in 2013, and is also higher than the three-year average.

The numbers are preliminary, so the Bureau did not calculate fatality rates that could be used to compare Wyoming to other states.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

As the list of orphaned wells in Wyoming continues to grow, state regulators are looking to strengthen oil and gas bonding requirements.

Oil and gas companies are required to post bonds before they begin drilling, in order to ensure compliance with regulations during drilling and cleanup. But current bonding requirements have been criticized for failing to discourage abandonment, and for not being sufficient to cover the costs of plugging orphaned wells.

Melodie Edwards

It was standing room only in Casper Wednesday night at a public meeting addressing the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's decision to downgrade 87,000 miles of the state's streams.

Christine Lictenfells is a longtime guide and outdoor educator. She says the DEQ's decision wasn't based on a clear understanding of how people use high mountain waters. She says  backpackers and horsepackers bathe there and expect clean waters. She had a suggestion for the DEQ.

Wyoming Workforce Services

A change in reporting requirements means Wyoming employers will have to notify the state’s workplace safety regulators after the hospitalization of any worker.

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services is currently only notified about fatalities and catastrophes—incidents when three or more workers are hospitalized—but new rules from the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration now require employers to report when anyone gets hurt on the job and lands in the hospital.

Crews managed to extinguish a fire at a Chesapeake Energy well site near Douglas after it burned for more than a week.

The fire started Sunday, September 6 and quickly spread to all six wells on the site. Chesapeake brought in Boots and Coots, a firm that specializes in well control, to fight the fire and cap the wells. The final well was capped on Tuesday.

While the fire was burning, some residents of Douglas reported an oily residue coating houses and cars. The company Chesapeake contracted to monitor air quality says the residue doesn’t pose a public health threat.

A delegation from Wyoming had front row seats at the Low Carbon Development Forum on Wednesday in China’s main coal producing province. 

In advance of Chinese President Xi's upcoming visit to Washington DC, researchers from the University of Wyoming and advocates for low carbon technology are in China this week. Members of the Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs are meeting with local officials and power company executives in Shanxi, China's main coal producing province.

Wyoming Game and Fish

The wolverine is one of the most elusive animals in the wild… not the easiest beast to get on camera. But Wyoming Game and Fish successfully photographed one in the Gros Ventre Range this year, the first documented there since the species was trapped out of the state in the last century. Game and Fish Supervisor Zack Walker says the photograph came as a surprise.

“We were able to get a photograph of a wolverine in the Gros Ventre, which has not been documented before. So that was pretty exciting. And then we had a number of wolverines seen in five other locations in Wyoming.”

As lawmakers in Washington consider lifting the decades-old ban on crude oil exports, voices from around the country are weighing in on what the move would mean for the American public.

The oil industry’s top trade group has released a pair of brand new TV ads that tell viewers that lifting the ban would be good for national security and our economy. The American Petroleum Institute is running the ads in 12 states, including Colorado. The group estimates that allowing the foreign sale of US crude could increase domestic production by half a million barrels a day by 2020.

Office of the Governor

People in Wyoming are passionate about wildlife. Just say the word “wolf” in mixed company and see what happens. And it’s the state’s long history of negotiating with the federal government over endangered species like the sage grouse and the grizzly that has prompted Governor Matt Mead this month to announce an initiative to reform the 42-year-old Endangered Species Act. I asked him, what made him decide now was the time for this.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

With oil hovering around $45 a barrel these days, oil workers can go from making a six-figure salary, including overtime, to being unemployed and broke. When business is good, a $60,000 dollar truck, for example, might be a reasonable purchase and maybe even a business expense. But the oil industry isn’t like most businesses. Work can go away overnight.

Andrew Cullen

The high school football game is the center of life for small towns in much of rural America. And one town, in western North Dakota, is celebrating the return of that ritual for the first time in over a quarter century.

The Alexander Comets are a six-man football team (the school is still too small to host the 11-man game). On the day before their home opener, against a small town in eastern Montana, they're going over plays and their warm-up routine.

"I can’t wait for tomorrow to come," says wide receiver Jayy Morgan, "my head’s going to explode right now."

Wyoming Outdoor Council

Next Wednesday, September 16 in Casper, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality will host a public discussion of a decision to downgrade about 87,000 miles of streams in the state. The DEQ argues such waters are too shallow for swimming. Outdoor groups disagree, saying campers and hunters bathe and swim in them and that it could lead to more illness due to higher levels of the bacteria e. coli.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

What is the best way to manage your money if you live in a boom and bust economy?

WPM/NPR Community Discussion Rules

By contributing your comment, you consent to the possibility of having it read on the air. 

Wyoming Workforce Services

Wyoming saw a spike in workplace fatalities in 2014. Thirty-four people died on the job last year, up from 21 in 2013, according to a new report from the state.


Transportation-related accidents accounted for almost half of the deaths, and also for the largest increase.


The state of Wyoming and bankrupt coal giant Alpha Natural Resources have reached an agreement over the company's reclamation bonding obligations. But as it covers just a small fraction of what the state estimates it would cost to clean up Alpha's mines.

The state projects it would cost $411 million dollars at most for Alpha to clean up its coal mines in Wyoming. Earlier this year, the Department of Environmental Quality asked the company to pay up on that obligation, in the form of a bond. But when Alpha declared bankruptcy in August, it still hadn't put up the money. 

Courtesy of Ken Lund, Flickr Creative Commons

It’s no secret that late summer is a great time to visit Yellowstone National Park. And, that means lots of traffic. With many people celebrating the Labor Day holiday, park officials say safety is a big concern. Park spokesman Amy Bartlett says that’s why park rangers and local law enforcement are working together to post traffic safety checkpoints along the park’s hundreds of miles of backroads.

Last week, a judge in North Dakota ruled against an EPA decision that would have imposed stricter water quality regulations for streams and tributaries around the U.S. Wyoming and 12 other Western states sued the federal government over the rule, known as the Waters of the United States rule. Supporters say it would help states comply with the Clean Water Act by protecting wetlands and stopping industrial dumping. But a federal judge sided with those states, agreeing it would place too heavy a burden on the agriculture industry.

A controversial wind project near Glenrock is inching closer to final approval. Wasatch Wind initially proposed the Pioneer Wind Park in 2011, but it faced significant opposition from the get-go and the company ended up spending the last several years defending the project in court and hearings.

Now, a new company has taken over and is hoping to start construction soon. Utah-based s-Power bought the Pioneer wind project in early August. s-Power owns a number of other renewable energy projects across the country.