Natural Resources & Energy

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STEPHANIE JOYCE / WYOMING PUBLIC RADIO

 

Just before midnight on a recent evening, Chris Loman was still busy checking people in and out of the Oak Tree Inn in Gillette, Wyoming. She asked one guest about his wife and ribbed another about a past visit.

“They’re like family to me,” Loman said. “And I am to them.”

The Oak Tree Inn is not a typical hotel. It has private rooms, key cards, and fresh towels, but most of its guests work for BNSF, one of the nation’s largest railroads. Until recently, the entire hotel was under contract to the railroad.

Clean Or Contaminated? Residents Fear Tainted Water Post Fracking

Jul 1, 2016
Maryam Jameel / Center for Public Integrity

    

Sixty years after his service in the Army, Jesse Eakin still completes his outfits with a pin that bears a lesson from the Korean War: Never Impossible.

That maxim has been tested by a low-grade but persistent threat far different than the kind Eakin encountered in Korea: well water that’s too dangerous to drink. It gives off a strange odor and bears a yellow tint. It carries sand that clogs faucets in the home Eakin shares with his wife, Shirley, here in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Will Taggart and Aaron Pruzan

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that kayakers successfully descended the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone River in northwest Wyoming, one of the wildest rivers in the U.S. But it was also around then that the state of Wyoming drew up plans to dam the canyon. A new documentary called Our Local Epic by kayakers Will Taggart and Aaron Pruzan explore how the Clark’s Fork became Wyoming's first wild and scenic river.

WANDERLUSTIMAGES.COM

When we talk about energy efficiencies, we’re usually talking about efficiencies at home – turning off the lights, unplugging appliances. But power plants have efficiency issues as well – a LOT of energy is lost when we burn fossil fuels to make electricity.

We’re thinking about this because we received a question from a student, as part of our IE Questions project. Garrett Bess is 14, and he just finished up eighth grade at Wellington Middle School in northern Colorado. Here’s his question:

Maggie Mullen

Bright Agrotech, an indoor farming technology company based in Laramie, introduced a first-of-its-kind lighting system on Thursday.

CEO Nate Storey says indoor farmers depend on artificial light in the grow houses. But where there is light, there is also heat.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

New rules from the Department of the Interior aim to close what many have called a loophole in how federal coal resources are valued.

Most of the coal mined in Wyoming is owned by the federal government. Companies pay royalties for the right to mine that coal—in theory, 12.5 percent of the sale price.

At a House Energy and Natural Resources Committee meeting in Washington last week, Republican lawmakers criticized the Bureau of Land Management for its plans to research new sterilization methods for wild horses. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert said there has been enough research and that it's time to start acting. 

“We don’t have time for a lot more studies. This has been an issue for years. It seems like we need a bill to end the studies and start the implementation.”

Wikimedia Commons

Wyoming Game and Fish officials report the state’s mule deer population is growing because of good moisture during the spring and early summer the past three years. Officials said this moisture helps grow the grasses mule deer need to eat coming out of winter.

Ian Tator of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department said because of good rainfall, the number of fawns born the past two years is more than enough to help the mule deer population grow.

BLM Wyoming

New fire restrictions for public lands in Sheridan, Johnson, and Campbell counties will go into effect Friday. Those counties been dry and hot in recent weeks, and lightning strikes have caused two fires in the area.

The new Bureau of Land Management restrictions will prohibit things like building fires outside of designated fire grates and smoking on public lands. 

InciWeb

A fire near Sundance that burned one home and several outbuildings is now 75 percent contained and an evacuation order for the area has been lifted. 

A lightning strike ignited the Kara Creek Fire on Friday, and strong winds over the weekend propelled its growth to more than 12,000 acres.

Smoke from the fire briefly shut down I-90 on Saturday, as crews built a fire break. In a statement, the fire incident commander said there has been an outpouring of support from nearby communities.

In a reversal of its previous position, Arch Coal now says it would likely be able to obtain third-party insurance for its clean-up obligations in Wyoming, if necessary. 

Arch is currently allowed to self-bond its more than $400 million in reclamation obligations in the state, meaning it has promised to pay for future clean-up, but has not been asked to guarantee that promise with third-party insurance or cash. 

Wikimedia Commons

University of Wyoming researchers found 70 acres of land near Sheridan infested with Ventenata, an invasive grass species that’s been hurting hay production in nearby states.

A single plant of Ventenata was first found near the Sheridan area in 1997. Since then, the grass has spread unchecked. Ventenata is known to be a low-quality biomass grass–it doesn’t add a lot of nutritional content for hay production or livestock foraging. Ventenata can reduce hay production yields by up to 50 percent according to the United States Forest Service.

Kari Greer, National Interagency Fire Center

Dry winds and a lack of rain kept the Beaver Creek fire burning hot over the weekend. The blaze is located in Colorado two miles south of the Wyoming border. It’s now grown to over 6200 acres and the local sheriff’s office says two outbuildings have been consumed in the flames.

While no homes have been lost, about 60 cabins are still in the fire’s path. Firefighters have been using sprinklers and other prevention methods to prepare the buildings in case the fire moves closer.

the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Blue

The Beaver Creek fire in the Routt National Forest has grown to more than 5,300 acres and 40 homes are now threatened by the blaze in Northern Colorado, just two miles south of the Wyoming-Colorado border.

Michelle Kelly, Public Information Officer with the Rocky Mountain Incident Management Team Blue, said containment has been difficult because of windy conditions and beetle kill trees.

The Bureau of Land Management

 

Regulators heard from all sorts of people, from firefighters to business owners to coal miners, at a meeting in Grand Junction, CO today on potential reforms to the federal coal program. 

American taxpayers are receiving less than they should from the sale of publicly-owned coal according to a report released by the White House today.

When coal companies mine federal coal, they pay a fee on each ton, a royalty payment. 

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

A U.S. District Court judge in Wyoming has struck down a rule that would have governed fracking on federal lands.

Judge Scott Skavdahl concluded in his ruling that the Department of the Interior does not have the authority to regulate fracking and called the attempt to do so an “end-run” around the 2005 Energy Policy Act. That law explicitly exempted fracking from regulation by another arm of the executive branch—the Environmental Protection Agency.

Stephanie Joyce

As Alpha Natural Resources looks to emerge from bankruptcy, the government is opposing the company’s plan to transfer its federal coal leases to a new company. The Department of Justice argues Alpha’s current reorganization plan doesn’t adequately address the company’s cleanup obligations.

Alpha’s plan calls for selling off its most valuable assets to a group of its creditors, who would form a new company with them. Those assets include the company's Wyoming mines, which are on federal land. 

Melodie Edwards

  

On the shore next to the Buford Ranch pond in early June, clear plastic tubs sit in stacks with little ordinary-looking, brown speckled toads visible inside climbing the walls, trying to escape. And escape is exactly what a crowd of people—private landowners, environmental groups and federal and state agencies—have all gathered here today to help the toads do.

 A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate today by Senator Maria Cantwell (D- WA) would ensure coal mine cleanup costs would get more expensive for coal companies. Under current regulations, some companies pay little to nothing to make sure coal mine cleanup – or reclamation – gets done. This bill would change that. Confused? Let me explain!

Arch Coal filed an updated version of its plan to get out of bankruptcy today. This legal wrangling is the company’s latest effort to get everyone to agree on a repayment plan.  

Arch Coal’s new restructuring plan outlines how various creditors would be paid, or not paid, if the plan is approved.

In a statement, Arch Coal wrote that a group of its senior lenders do support the plan. But not all of the company’s creditors are on board. Some have even threatened to sue. 

Credit Wikimedia Commons

The University of Wyoming and nine other institutions have formed a coalition to study how fossil fuels can be used more efficiently and with less environmental impact.

The coalition led by Penn State is being funded by the United States Department of Energy, which recently gave a $20 million grant to the group. The funding will help the schools look further into issues such as carbon storage and natural gas infrastructure.

Duncan Harris, Flickr Creative Commons

Nebraska-based Kiewit Corporation announced today that 45 positions will be cut from its Gillette mine. In 2015, around 218 workers were employed at Buckskin Mine, Kiewit's only in the state.  

 

In a statement, company spokesperson Tom Janssen wrote:   

 

"Unfortunately, the coal market remains extremely challenging. Low natural gas prices, low overall power demand and high coal stockpiles at utility power plants has significantly reduced our customers’ 2016 coal needs."

 

Tom Koerner/USFWS

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has confirmed the first ever case of Chronic Wasting Disease in Star Valley.

Chronic Wasting Disease, or CWD, is a fatal brain disease that affects deer, elk and moose. The disease has mostly been reported in southeastern Wyoming, particularly in Albany and Laramie counties, and cases of CWD are relatively rare west of the continental divide. Two other infected deer were also found near Cody this past April.

Deal Could Finally Sell Grand Teton Land To The Government

Jun 15, 2016
Rebecca Huntington of Wyoming Public Media

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed a deal this week to protect land inside Grand Teton National Park from commercial development. 

Under the agreement, Wyoming would sell 640 acres to the National Park Service in exchange for a payment of $46 million from the federal government. That money would support education in Wyoming.

Stephanie Joyce

The latest attempt to block a federal rule addressing mercury pollution from power plants has failed.

The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards target mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants, which are the largest source of the toxin. Mercury can cause health problems, especially in children.

Last year, the Supreme Court sent the rule back to the lower courts after finding that the Environmental Protection Agency hadn’t adequately considered cost when formulating the rule. The agency has since done that.

Mysterious Gas Leak In A Town Surrounded By Wells

Jun 14, 2016
Leigh Paterson

The search is continuing for the source of a gas leak that shut down a school in Midwest, Wyoming at the end of May.

Fleur de Lis, the company that operates the neighboring Salt Creek oil field, says it has plugged one leaking well near the school, worked on another six and is continuing to monitor as many as 30 other wells in the area. 

The Salt Creek field is the oldest in Wyoming, and an Inside Energy analysis of the state oil and gas database shows there are more than 700 active and abandoned wells in a one-mile radius around the Midwest school.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The company behind the largest proposed wind farm in the country, in Carbon County, says that uncertainty around Wyoming's wind tax policy is making it more difficult to invest in wind. 

Wyoming is the only state in the country that taxes wind energy production and is considering raising that tax, a move which could ultimately deter future wind projects.  

Stephanie Joyce

The price of oil has climbed up from its winter low, but once again fell below $50 a barrel on Friday.

Charles Preston

An Oregon man is killed when he slips into a hot springs hundreds of yard off the boardwalk in Norris Geyser Basin. A Canadian tourist is fined $735 for picking up a bison calf that had to be euthanized. Another group of Canadians faces criminal charges for filming themselves walking on Grand Prismatic Spring. Two visitors have died already this summer season, but the risky behavior continues.

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