Natural Resources & Energy

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Alpha Natural Resources has reached an agreement with West Virginia that aims to ensure some of the bankrupt coal miner's future clean-up costs will be covered. The deal is similar to Wyoming's deal with the  company.

The agreement requires Alpha Natural Resources to put up $39 million in financial assurances for its $244 million dollars in self-bonded clean-up costs. Self-bonding is a program that gives companies a pass on putting aside money for clean-up costs if they can pass a test of financial strength.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Going forward, oil and gas companies in Wyoming will need to pay more upfront to cover the potential costs of clean-up down the road.

Companies have to post a bond before they begin drilling to ensure compliance with regulations and to cover the costs of clean-up if they go bankrupt or abandon their wells. The bonds are returned once wells are properly reclaimed.

Currently, Wyoming requires a bond of $75,000 to cover all of a company’s wells in the state, although many companies were grandfathered in under a previous $25,000 requirement.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Oil prices hit new lows Monday, after the news Friday that OPEC would not cut production. But several proposals for oil and gas projects in Wyoming are moving forward despite the price slump.

The Bureau of Land Management is beginning to assess the environmental impacts of a proposed 1500 well project that would straddle the border between Converse and Campbell counties. EOG Resources is behind the Greater Crossbow project. If it were to move forward, the company would drill the wells over the course of a decade—but that’s a ways off. 

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Proposals to export Wyoming coal through ports on the U.S. West Coast are in limbo, facing environmental opposition and lengthy permitting processes, but an export terminal in British Columbia just got the green light from regional authorities.

Port Metro Vancouver approved the coal facility’s permit on the same day global leaders kicked off climate talks in Paris. The port authority determined that the port would not have a "significant adverse environmental impact." As it’s currently proposed, the facility would be able to ship 4 million tons of Powder River Basin coal a year.

Geof Wilson / Flickr

The likelihood of rising oil prices dimmed after OPEC declined to put a cap on production at its latest meeting in Vienna on Friday.

 

Oil prices fell below $40 a barrel on the news that OPEC couldn’t come to an agreement on a production cap. Led by Saudi Arabia, the oil cartel has declined to cut production in the last year, even in a market flooded with oil. The strategy is intended to squeeze out higher-cost competitors, like U.S. shale producers. And it appears to be working.

 

Flickr Creative Commons

This month, global leaders are gathered in Paris to make a plan to combat climate change. There is broad scientific consensus that climate change is real, serious and caused by humans—but political consensus in this country has been elusive, often clouded by doubt. Over the years, climate denial arguments have changed, but the result has stayed the same: blocking action on climate change.

As an energy reporter in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state, it’s not uncommon for me to hear climate change denial. For example:

Wyoming Public Media

Today, nearly 40% of all coal produced in the U.S. comes from Wyoming. In order to access that coal, companies use huge machines to move dirt out of the way. That means a lot of land, over 170 thousand acres, is currently dug up by mining operations in the state. And reclaiming it- restoring it to what it once was- is expensive.

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

The shadows of cottonwood trees grow long as the sun sets over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Wyoming. A perfect time to spot wildlife on the Green River. Among the reeds, I see a white patch with a long neck. A trumpeter swan. Refuge project leader Tom Koerner passes me a pair of binoculars.

“That's probably a single bird and right in this wetland unit we just drove by there's three different pairs that nest in here,” Koerner says. 

Wyoming County Commissioners Association

There are 45 wilderness study areas scattered around the state on federal lands that are, in effect, stuck in limbo; only an act of Congress can make them true wilderness or release them for other uses.

But a new program called the Wyoming Public Land Initiative introduced Wednesday at the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee in Cheyenne would hand over the process of making that decision to county governments.

Wyoming County Commissioners Association Director Pete Obermueller says, the time has come to deal with those lands.

Stephanie Joyce

    

The Wyoming Supreme Court has decided an oil and gas company is liable for paying royalties and the costs of cleanup even though it sold its wells.

Pennaco Energy, a subsidiary of Marathon Oil, had sold its coal-bed methane wells in the Powder River Basin to High Plains Gas. High Plains subsequently went out of business without paying surface owners any royalties and without cleaning up the wells.

Greys River Wildlife Habitat Management Area

Chronic wasting disease spread through herds of elk and deer at a higher than usual this year. Normally, it’s found in less than five new hunting areas around the state but this year it turned up in seven new areas.

But Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Chief of Wildlife Scott Edberg says only one of those new areas was not right next door to an area where the disease had been found in the past, and that was on the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

How important are the Paris climate talks to you?

Nov 30, 2015
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How important are the Paris climate talks to you?

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Green River Recreation Department

It’s been a decade and a half of drought for Western states, many of which depend on the Colorado River for water. That includes Wyoming where the main branch of the Colorado—the Green River—originates in the Wind River Range.

The Upper Colorado River Basin states have decided to try a water conservation program long used in the Lower Basin states that pays water users to let their excess water flow back into the river.

With the Paris climate talks just around the corner, environmental groups are asking the Department of the Interior to consider climate change when approving coal mine projects. 

The letter, signed by activists like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club calls on DOI to deny five proposed mine expansion plans in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Montana, and Colorado. 

Energy Information Administration

Wyoming's total carbon emissions are on the rise, even as the state's per-capita emissions have fallen.

Wyoming’s falling per-capita emissions followed the national trend from 2005 to 2013. Forty-eight states’ per-capita emissions fell, while just three rose, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

As coal companies struggle to remain afloat, Wyoming regulators are reviewing the state’s rules for how companies put money aside for clean-up. 

Inside Energy

This Thanksgiving our holiday feast will contain 4500 calories. Those calories are just a measure of energy, and that food was produced using fossil fuels. In this video, Inside Energy's Dan Boyce explains how fossil fuels are, in fact, your food:

Stephanie Joyce

There are few places where the connection between energy and food is more obvious than at the Bright Agrotech warehouse in Laramie, Wyoming.

Most of the building is filled floor to ceiling with giant shelves of cardboard boxes and tubing—equipment Bright Agrotech sells to farmers—but in one corner of the warehouse, there’s a small farm: rows and rows of greens and herbs, growing in white vertical towers under dozens of bright LEDs. The hum of electricity is palpable.

 

Under threat of being held in contempt of court, a Wyoming advocacy group is backing down from its challenge of a bankrupt coal company's mining permits.  

The Powder River Basin Resource Council argues that Alpha Natural Resources shouldn't be allowed to renew its mine permit because it doesn’t have sufficient bonding in place to ensure mine clean-up, which is something that is required by law.

newsroom.unfccc.int/paris

Remember when Democrats controlled Congress a few years back? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had stout majorities back then. Yet even then Democrats couldn’t get legislation passed to combat climate change. So why is the Obama administration preparing to go to Paris to promise the world drastic emission reductions from the United States? U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis said the answer is simple.

“Oh, he’s bypassing Congress.”

Lummis said President Obama isn’t being honest with global leaders as he’s promising lavish reductions in CO2.

EMILY GUERIN / INSIDE ENERGY

Everyone knows North Dakota is an oil state. But it’s the state’s coal industry that’s feeling the heat from the federal Clean Power Plan, which targets carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Under the final version of the plan, North Dakota will have to cut its emissions by 45 percent – more any other state except Montana.

Wyoming Migration Initiative, Matt Kauffman

    

In the hills south of Rock Springs, it's blizzarding. But Wyoming Game and Fish biologist Patrick Burke says it's actually great weather for tracking mule deer.

“You know, with no winds like this, and fresh snow,” he says, “that's really good for helping locate animals.”

Burke and other scientists have braved this weather today in hopes of capturing deer with helicopters to put satellite radio collars on them. They've already collared 18, but they want to do 50. 

University of Wyoming Professor Kevin Monteith is one of the group.

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing changes to its rules for burning or “flaring” natural gas. 

Natural gas is a byproduct of drilling for oil, but when there aren't nearby pipelines or processing facilities to take the gas, companies often burn it for a period of time.

Environmental groups say flaring wastes a valuable, non-renewable resource and creates air quality problems for nearby residents.

With snow in the forecast, you’re probably not thinking much about mosquitoes. But the Laramie City Council is.

Laramie Beekeeper Helen Coates says last July, after the city sprayed organophosphates--a powerful common insecticide-- on the fields surrounding the city, she found hundreds of dead bees outside her hive. She says the chemical may be the cheapest approach, but it’s the worst for the environment.

“If you go spray, for example, a field of blooming yellow clover, you’re going to kill all the pollinators, probably some birds, it’s toxic to fish, etc.”

USDA Photo by Scott Bauer

What do you think the state should do to protect big game migration routes? 

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Google Earth

Standing on a windy stretch of highway with Karla Oksanen, we peer into a vast, dark, open-pit mine near Gillette, Wyo. She and her husband live so close to Eagle Butte Mine that when operators detonate dynamite to clear dirt away from the coal seams, they can feel it.

“The shaking from the blasts, yeah,” Oksanen said with a laugh. “It’s kind of like an earthquake!”

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is once again considering a proposal to dispose of oil and gas wastewater in the Madison aquifer in Fremont County.

The proposal would allow waste from the Moneta Divide project to be injected into a 15,000 foot aquifer. Encana originally petitioned for the aquifer exemption back in 2013. Aethon Energy has since purchased the field.

The water in the aquifer is considered to be good quality, but the company has argued that because it is so deep, it won’t ever be used as a drinking water source.

FMC Corporation

Scientists discussed new discoveries about big game migrations this week at a conference at the University of Wyoming. The forum—called “Sustaining Big Game Migrations in the West”-- brought together experts to discuss how to protect migration routes without hurting the state’s economy.

Wyoming Migration Initiative Director Matt Kauffman says such a forum is important right now because new science shows migrating animals are easily affected by development.

  

The New York attorney general and Peabody Energy have come to an agreement over the company’s disclosures related to climate change.

The attorney general’s office launched the investigation in 2007. Over the weekend, the office agreed to drop the investigation if Peabody includes certain disclosures about the risks of climate change in its future filings with regulators.

archcoal.com

After reporting a $2 billion loss in the third quarter, Arch Coal says it could declare bankruptcy in "the near term."

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