Natural Resources & Energy

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A Wyoming Senate committee has voted in favor of a bill that is attempting to clarify a controversial data trespass law. 

The law says people are guilty of trespassing if they gather water samples, take pictures, or collect any other type of data on private or so-called open lands without permission. Some argue that “open lands” could refer to public lands or national parks. The new legislation removes the phrase “open lands” from the law and instead says people can’t gather data on private property without permission. 

In response to a federal inquiry about potential mining violations by bankrupt coal company Alpha Natural Resources, Wyoming regulators say they are in compliance with the law. But, regulators did note that the challenges created by "the dramatic decline in Alpha's financial condition... highlight certain systemic problems with self-bonding." Self-bonding references a financial tool that gives companies a pass on putting aside funds for clean-up if they can prove financial strength. 

Alvin Trusty via Flickr Creative Commons

A national survey of middle and high school science teachers has found that educators’ confusion about climate change leads to misinformation in the classroom.

The National Center for Science Education and Penn State University surveyed 1,500 teachers across the country on their views about climate change—and how they present the topic to students. The average teacher spent one or two hours per year on the topic.

EIA

The number of train cars carrying coal on U.S. railroads has dropped thanks to falling demand and warmer-than-usual winter temperatures.

Total train traffic during the first week of February was down slightly, just 1.4%, from the same week last year. But the number of train cars carrying coal plummeted by around 30%. Transportation analyst Tony Hatch says railway companies are trying to diversify by transporting new products.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

  

  

Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a major part of President Obama's climate change agenda... the Clean Power Plan. That rule, which would limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal fired power plants is now on hold until legal challenges against it are resolved. Wyoming is one of the 27 states to sue the federal government over the regulations. Our Inside Energy reporter Leigh Paterson joins Caroline Ballard to talk about what it all means. 

In a $1.9 billion deal, Black Hills Energy has purchased SourceGas, expanding the company's utility operations in Wyoming. The companies agreed to the sale last summer, but were waiting on regulatory approval. Shirley Welte is the new vice president of operations for Black Hills Energy in Wyoming. She says the merger was a logical business move.

"The combination fits our overall strategy to create value for our customers and shareholders by growing our business," says Welte.

Cory Richards

In the 1980’s, Laramie native and National Geographic adventure writer Mark Jenkins came upon an old book called Burma’s Icy Mountains. It was written in the 50’s by an eccentric British explorer, Frank Kingdon Ward. Jenkins was hooked, especially when he learned that no one knew for sure which mountain was the highest peak in Burma: Gamlang Razi was officially measured at 19,259 feet in 2013, but as for neighboring Hkakabo Razi, no one had ever stood on top and gotten a GPS reading. Some said it was higher, some lower.

The coal industry's slide continues as one of the nation's largest producers reported a loss of over $2 billion in 2015. 

Peabody Energy has extensive mining operations across the US and Australia. But its stock price plummeted in 2015 and the company’s Wyoming coal production was down around four percent from the year before. During the company's quarterly earnings call, executives broke with tradition and declined to take questions due to quote sensitive timing. Here’s CEO Glenn Kellow.

Wikimedia Commons

North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem isn’t likely to forget the phone call he got Tuesday night, from a colleague in Washington D.C.

“5pm. It was 5pm exactly,” he recalled in an interview with Inside Energy.

Wyoming regulators and a bankrupt coal company have reached a resolution on the company's substantial outstanding coal mine cleanup costs. 

Arch Coal declared bankruptcy with nearly half a billion dollars of future clean up costs still on its books. Documents filed with the bankruptcy court earlier this week indicate Wyoming regulators wanted financial assurances that the company would be able to pay those clean up costs.

NPR

President Obama’s final annual budget, released Tuesday, spends heavily on climate and clean energy, shifting away from fossil fuels. 

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has finalized new rules governing the flaring and venting of natural gas from oil wells.

Natural gas is a byproduct of drilling for oil, but when there aren't pipelines or processing facilities nearby to collect the gas, companies sometimes end up burning it off.

The new rules formalize requirements for operators to submit reports so that the state can keep track of how much gas is being flared.

Stephanie Joyce

The Supreme Court has put the Obama administration’s signature climate change rule on hold while lower courts consider legal challenges.

Stephanie Joyce

Bankrupt coal miner Alpha Natural Resources is hoping to put its core assets on the auction block, including its mines in Wyoming. 

A group of the company’s lenders have placed a so-called “stalking horse bid” of $500 million, effectively setting the floor for what the company would accept. Pending approval by a bankruptcy judge, Alpha could start taking bids from other interested buyers later this month.

The company doesn’t have to go through with the sale of the assets, but could if it gets a high enough bid.

Stephanie Joyce

It came as news to Jeff Parsek that state records show there is an abandoned oil and gas well in his driveway. Parsek lives in a large, brown ranch house, right across the street from an elementary school, in a subdivision on the south side of Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s a nice neighborhood, with the new feeling of many Colorado suburbs.

When Parsek bought the house in 2004, he didn’t ask about oil and gas wells on the property.

With drought and climate change creating water shortages in lower desert states, Wyoming is looking for more ways to store its share of Colorado River water. Last week, a bill sponsored by Representative Cynthia Lummis that would expand the storage capacity of Fontanelle Reservoir on the Green River in southwest Wyoming passed the House Natural Resources Committee unanimously.

Lummis says Wyoming needs more water to grow.

National Park Service

Yellowstone biologists are winning the war against invasive Lake Trout, and bringing back native Yellowstone Cutthroat.

Yellowstone Lake is a cold place. If you’re out on the lake even in the middle of the summer, you’ll need a jacket. So, when we went out in a boat with Yellowstone’s leader of the Cutthroat Trout restoration project, it was chilly.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest fresh water lake above 7000 feet in north America. It is also very deep, and cold. That is why non-native Lake Trout have thrived here. They evolved in the Great Lakes. 

North Dakotans Reel From Low Oil And Ag Prices

Feb 5, 2016
EMILY GUERIN / INSIDE ENERGY

On the surface, North Dakota doesn’t seem like a state full of risk-takers. It’s conservative, faith and family-oriented. Yet many people here are constantly making big bets on how much money they’re going to make next year, or whether they’re going to have a job in a  few months.

raskin227-flickr

Next week, legislators will debate whether or not to add mountain lions to the list of animals that can be legally trapped in the state. Newcastle Representative Hans Hunt is one of the bill’s sponsors. He says sportsmen and ranchers complain that mountain lions are hurting mule deer populations.

“The incidence of predator kills on deer populations in certain parts of the state has to be evidence enough that their population is certainly increasing and at a rate that’s cause for concern,” Hunt says.

The Bureau of Land Management

Several Wyoming counties are looking into ways to change wilderness study areas on Bureau of Land Management lands. Park County’s commissioners discussed the process Tuesday, and decided to give it a try.

The BLM preserves Wilderness Study Areas as undeveloped federal lands. One of Park County’s Wilderness Study Areas is on the BLM's McCullough Peaks near Cody. 

Park County Commissioner Bucky Hall says Governor Mead has asked Wyoming’s counties to start the Wyoming Public Lands Initiative. 

With energy prices in a slump, oil and gas employment in Wyoming was down 30% in December from the same time in 2014, to just under 13,000 jobs. Economist David Bullard says oil prices have nose dived over the last year.

“So it's not surprising to see job loss in oil and gas here in Wyoming," Bullard says.

Oil prices are currently hovering around $30 a barrel. 

The federal government has agreed to give state regulators an extension to respond to its inquiry into potential violations of mining regulations.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, OSMRE, sent two Ten-Day Notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The notices asked the state to take a closer look at whether two bankrupt coal companies are out of compliance with federal and state mining regulations.

Stephanie Joyce

Wyoming regulators have asked for more time to respond to the federal government's concerns about potential lapses in state oversight of coal mine reclamation.

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent two ten-day notices to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality on January 21st. The agency believes that two bankrupt coal companies, with hundreds of millions of dollars in outstanding clean up costs, could be in violation of federal mining regulations.  

Recently, new GPS technology has allowed wildlife biologists to learn much more about migration routes for big game like mule deer and pronghorn. Wyoming Game and Fish Department Deputy Chief of Wildlife Scott Smith says they aren’t just roads where animals move along quickly. Instead, they’re habitats where animals spend a lot of time each year.

That’s why, last week, the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission decided it was time to adopt updated policies to protect those routes.

Stephanie Joyce

A panel that makes recommendations on whether new federal coal projects should move forward has given the green light to two proposals in Montana and Wyoming.

Cloud Peak Energy and Lighthouse Resources want to mine a combined 644 million tons of coal from government reserves. The Powder River regional coal team recommended that the Bureau of Land Management begin the environmental review process for both projects.

USFWS Mountain Prairie, Flickr Creative Commons

In the Wyoming Range in western Wyoming, mule deer numbers have plummeted by 20,000 animals since the early 90’s. One problem has been the high number of fawns that don’t make it to adulthood. Now, a new study of that herd shows a rare disease called adenovirus may be a culprit.

University of Wyoming professor Kevin Monteith is working closely with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust and Animal Damage Management Board on the study.

Yellowstone’s expert on grizzly bears says it’s time to delist them. Bear Management biologist Kerry Gunther edited the recent Yellowstone Science magazine dedicated to grizzly bear recovery.

“Where are the grizzly bears” is one of the most frequently asked questions at Yellowstone Park Entrances. That question often gets answered now.

Yellowstone Bear Management Specialist Kerry Gunther said in the early eighties it was rare to see any bear in the Park. But things have changed.

Stephanie Joyce

How much should climate change factor into decisions about coal mining on federal land? 

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A bankruptcy judge has authorized up to $12 million dollars in bonuses for executives of the bankrupt coal mining company Alpha Natural Resources.

Coal Downturn Makes It Harder To Clean Up Its Dirty Past

Jan 22, 2016
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

When she was growing up, Julie Bundy’s parents forbade her from playing on the "slate dumps." That was their shorthand for the hundred-foot-tall pile of loose rubble that sat right in the middle of Fredericktown, the southwestern Pennsylvania coal town where her grandparents lived.

“My grandparents lived in the yellow house on the corner with the slate dumps in the back yard. As long as I can remember, it was there,” Bundy says.

Bundy, 36, now lives across the street from the dumps, a coal-refuse pile left over from a defunct mining operation that ended decades ago.

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