Natural Resources & Energy

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Jeff Henry

In 1988 much of Yellowstone National Park was engulfed in flames. At the time a young employee and budding photographer named Jeff Henry was asked to take photos of the fire.

Over 25 years later Henry has written a book about the fires that includes numerous photographs that he took on the front lines. The book is called The Year Yellowstone Burned: A 25 Year Perspective. Henry joins us and recalls how politicians and others were critical of the Parks approach to the fires. 

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Part 4 of an Inside Energy series Blackout: Reinventing The Grid

The Environmental Protection Agency is putting the finishing touches on its Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions, but warnings against it are getting louder.

Many who deal in the energy sector- grid operators, lawmakers, and especially the coal industry- are piling on to the idea that transitioning away from coal to renewables and natural gas will destabilize our power grid.

Dan Boyce

Part 5 of an Inside Energy series Blackout: Reinventing The Grid

Our electricity system is changing rapidly around us. New sources of renewable power are meeting technologies that can crunch unprecedented amounts of data.  It’s all leading to a major shakeup for how utilities do business.

Cara Neth and her husband, Torger Hougan, have accomplished something unthinkable: they’ve brought the temperature in their Fort Collins, Colorado home up to 68 degrees. Even a few months ago, they would struggle to get the thermostat up to 50 or 60 degrees.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The grid control room at Østkraft, on the Danish island of Bornholm, is a mix of old and new. On one side of the room, huge computer monitors detail the flow of electricity throughout the system. On the other, printed circuit diagrams hang on 60s-era control boards with dancing needles. Lounging at a desk in a grey jumpsuit and thick eyeglasses, engineer Erik Malmkvist jams to early 90s dance music, while explaining that his job is to do as little as possible.

“When I shall do anything, it costs us money," he says. "So, I do as little as possible.”

A 27 year veteran of the National Park Service has been selected to be the new Superintendent of Devils Tower National Monument. Tim Reid has spent the last six years working as the Chief Ranger at Yellowstone National Park. 

Reid is known as someone who provides a balance of resource protection, while providing an excellent visitor experience. He says the key is communication with stakeholders.

A public protest period is now open for a new resource management plan put forth by the Bureau of Land Management for the Powder River Basin area.

The plan would authorize 10 billion tons of coal production, as well as oil and gas development.

Powder River Basin Resource Council Chair Gillian Malone says the council had hoped there might be limits on energy production.

"Well we would hope that there would be a lot more room to protect Greater Sage Grouse for one thing in the Powder River Basin and they did virtually nothing," says Malone.

Conservation groups are expressing huge concern over the proposed Bureau of Land Management proposed resource management plan for the Powder River Basin.  

The plan authorizes 10 billion tons of coal production along with oil and gas development. With concern being expressed over Sage Grouse habitat, some conservation groups thought the BLM would proposed reduced energy development.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said last week during a trip to Cheyenne that Sage Grouse will be monitored and that the declining coal market will take care of a lot of the carbon dioxide concerns.

Stephanie Joyce

In the latest sign of a struggling US coal market, one of Wyoming’s largest coal producers has failed a financial test from the state.

Alpha Natural Resources owns several large coal mines in the Powder River Basin. Mining companies in Wyoming are typically required to post bonds assuring regulators they can reclaim or clean up the mines when they’re abandoned. But under a provision called “self-bonding,” companies meeting certain financial criteria don’t actually have to put up the money. 

Bob Beck

Secretary of Interior Sally Jewel came to Cheyenne to announce a massive plan to conserve Sage Grouse habitat in several western states. Wyoming started its own conservation efforts in 2007 and Jewel says it is a model state. The question is whether the federal efforts can keep the Sage Grouse from being placed on the endangered species list. 

Bill Stevenson / Creative Commons

Part 1 in our Inside Energy series Blackout: Reinventing The Grid.

It was a blustery, cold January day in 1998 when the rain turned to ice. I was nine years old at the time, living in a town called Canton in upstate New York, near the Canadian border. The storm started early, but didn’t get serious until well after dark.

“I remember waking up in the night and hearing explosions outside,” my mom, Lynn Shepherd, recalled recently. “When the top of a tree comes off and it just splinters, the snapping is really an explosion. It’s like a gunshot.”  

Dan Boyce

Part 2 of an Inside Energy series Blackout: Reinventing The Grid

Bill LeBlanc hits the streets with a video camera every year to chat energy with average Americans, in different cities around the country, starting with the basics like “what exactly is electricity?”

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Part 3 of an Inside Energy series Blackout: Reinventing The Grid

On an overcast Florida afternoon five years ago, standing in front of a vast array of solar panels, President Obama pledged to modernize the nation’s power grid. He compared its current state to the road system before interstate highways. “It was a tangled maze of poorly maintained back roads that were rarely the fastest or the most efficient way to get from point A to point B,” he said.

Irina Zhorov of Wyoming Public Radio

Wyoming's two U.S. senators are getting behind a new effort to give Governors more power over the EPA. The reason is simple.

It's no secret the EPA has its sights set on the nation's traditional energy sector. In 2012, 39% of the nation's carbon emissions came from either coal, oil or natural gas fired power plants. There's only about 2500 of them nationwide, and the EPA is demanding they cut their emissions or it will have them shuttered. Wyoming's junior Senator John Barrasso says the EPA is forcing the energy industry to make terrible business decisions. 

At least one of the 15 plans released this week by the Bureau of Land Management has environmentalists concerned. The plan—covering Wyoming’s Bighorn Basin—is drawing criticism from some environmental groups that say it doesn’t do enough to protect three especially wild regions in the basin. Wyoming Outdoor Council spokeswoman Julia Stuble says the plan needs to adopt a stronger “look before leasing” approach to make energy development decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Stephanie Joyce

With the final draft of the federal Clean Power Plan due out later this summer, the Wyoming Legislature’s Minerals Committee took its first look at the proposal during a meeting in Casper Thursday.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has unveiled several new federal plans for western states to preserve the habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse in an effort to keep the bird from being added to the endangered species list. The plans would keep energy development from occurring in sensitive areas.

Michael Berman's "Fence Line"

Coming up May 29 and 30 in Sheridan County, a pair of events will celebrate Wyoming grassland ecology. 20 artists and scientists will come together to present their work about a landscape many Wyomingites often take for granted: the prairie.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The report by the Rhodium Group and the National Committee on US-China Relations, details Chinese commercial investment in the US by congressional district. Wyoming, with just one congressional district, has seen around $770 million in Chinese investment state-wide.  According to Shawn Reese of the Wyoming Business Council, this is largely the result of two joint ventures between Chinese and American oil and gas companies in the DJ Basin and Powder River Basin.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Fair has announced that this year the event will be moved from Jackson to Casper.

Fair General Manager Dave Hutton says rising costs in Jackson was a major factor in the change of venue. But even with lower costs, Casper has fewer direct flights than Jackson, potentially making it more difficult for people to attend. Hutton says he does think this year’s turnout will be slightly lower in previous years.

Wyoming PBS will air a program tonight that will examine the challenges facing the sage grouse that may land the bird on the endangered species act this year. 

Called The Sagebrush Sea, the program will take a close look at why sage grouse numbers are in decline. Producer Marc Dantzler says he has been impressed by efforts made by the state of Wyoming to improve conditions for the sage grouse, but he says the bird’s condition in other states could cause it to be listed.

Wikimedia Commons

The director of the Wyoming’s chapter of the Conservation Fund, Luke Lynch, was killed in an avalanche on Sunday. Lynch and three others had ascended Mount Moran in Grand Teton National Park when a wet slab swept them off the mountain. One other man was seriously injured but two others survived to make a rescue call.

Park spokeswoman Jackie Skaggs says it was the accumulation of fresh snow on top of winter snowpack that created the dangerous conditions.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

On Tuesday, Wyoming's Environmental Quality Council approved a significant new rule that will regulate oil and gas emissions in the Upper Green River Basin, an area that has been plagued by air pollution. Inside Energy’s Leigh Paterson reports.

Huge Magma Reservoir Under Yellowstone

May 19, 2015
Hsin Hua Huang, University of Utah

Scientists say a mammoth magma reservoir lies under Yellowstone. It’s four times the size of the magma pool that fuels the super volcano. They say it holds enough hot rock to fill the Grand Canyon 11 times… but you shouldn’t worry.

Dr. Robert Smith is considered the world’s foremost expert on the Yellowstone super volcano system. His publication last year drew attention worldwide, when it declared the magma body under the park was two and a half times larger than previously thought. 

Photo by Wendy Shattil/Bob Rozinksi under Creative Commons licensing

On Friday, two groups of oil and gas producers, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance, filed an injunction in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming against the first-ever federal rule to regulate hydraulic fracturing.  

This week, an Idaho environmental surveying company was issued several citations and a $15,000 dollar fine by the Wyoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Officials say the company, Nature’s Capital, failed to provide safety equipment or training to an employee who was killed by a bear in Teton National Forest last fall.

OSHA administrator John Ysebaert says Nature’s Capital should have provided bear spray, noise makers and required a trip itinerary. He says while $15,000  isn’t a steep fine, the amount is based on the violation, not on whether it was a fatality.

Some landowners are expressing concern about how expanded sage grouse protections could affect their private property rights. At a state sage grouse meeting last week in Douglas, two ranchers requested that their property be removed from the grouse’s current protected areas or be left out of proposed additions.

Last week, Utah representative Rob Bishop added a rider to the National Defense Authorization Act that would delay the listing of the greater sage grouse as an endangered species. The bill says listing the bird could endanger the country by placing restrictions  on how military property can be used. 

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

This week, an opinion piece published on Slate.com claimed that a new Wyoming law makes it illegal to collect data on federal lands.

The Wyoming Farm Bureau and the Office of State Lands and Investments says that is not accurate. Wyoming State Lands Assistant Director Jason Crowder says Wyoming has no jurisdiction over federal lands, but the law could impact state lands on a case by case basis. 

Federal Reserve Bank

The "breakeven" price for oil has fallen in step with oil prices, according to new data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. The "breakeven" price is when producing oil is no longer profitable for companies. 

The Bank periodically surveys oil and gas companies in seven Western and Midwestern states. When oil prices started to slide, those companies reported an average breakeven price of $79. Now, those same companies report it's down to an average of $62. 

Stephanie Joyce

Citing recent decisions by financial companies like Bank of America to withdraw funding from coal operations, Governor Matt Mead says Wyoming needs to innovate in order to stay an energy leader.

During his keynote address at the Wyoming Business Report's Energy Summit, Mead said that he has and will continue to fight against federal regulations, but added that more will be needed.  

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