Natural Resources & Energy

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Stephanie Joyce

Jackson is a long way from the land of the great apes, but this weekend, the world’s leading primatologists gathered there to discuss their future.

Gorillas, chimpanzees and orangutans have all seen dramatic population declines over the last hundred years. Doug Cress works for the Great Apes Survival partnership, or GRASP, one of the sponsors of the summit. He says the declines can be attributed to a single source.

The US Environmental Protection Agency has released a set of rules that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants. If finalized, the rules would be the first to set such a national standard. The rule caps carbon emissions from natural gas power plants at 1,000 pounds/megawatt hour and from coal power plants at 1,100 pounds.

More than 500 industry people gathered in Jackson this week for the 17th Annual Wyoming Oil and Gas Fair. Wyoming Public Radio’s energy and natural resources reporter, Stephanie Joyce was there, and she joins us now to talk about the event.

BOB BECK: So, what are the biggest issues on the mind of Wyoming’s oil and gas industry right now?

The Bureau of Land Management received a single bid at today’s coal lease sale, and it has rejected the offer.  Kiewit Mining Properties bid 21cents/ton on the Buckskin Mine Hay Creek II tract. The tract has about 167 million tons of mineable coal and is adjacent to the Buckskin mine, which Kiewit operates.

However, the bid is the lowest the BLM has received since 2001.

BLM spokeswoman, Beverly Gorny, says ultimately the bid did not meet the BLM’s secret calculations of what’s considered fair market value.

The Bureau of Land Management’s coal lease sale today coal lease sale received one bid. The Buckskin Mine Hay Creek II tract is adjacent to the operating Buckskin Mine in Campbell County. The bid came from Buckskin Mine’s operator, Kiewit Mining Properties, and amounted to 21 cents/ton for the estimated 167 million tons of mineable coal in the tract. If accepted, the tract could extend the mine’s life by about eight years.

The Bureau of Land Management’s Buffalo office is hoping to ensure more rigorous protections for sage grouse in the area. It’s drafted a new Resource Management Plan – or land use plan – to replace the one that’s been in place since the 1980s.

The plan outlines four alternatives. Thomas Bills with the BLM says the agency’s preferred alternative would incorporate the governor’s Core Area strategy, which limits development in prime sage grouse breeding areas.

Natural gas’ reputation as a climate-friendly alternative to coal has been tarnished recently by concerns that methane—a potent greenhouse gas—is leaking in copious quantities as the fuel makes its way from the ground to the consumer. A study released Monday provides the first on-the-ground measurements of methane leaks at hydraulically fractured natural gas well sites, and they're not as bad as some had feared.

The federal government is getting ready to unveil rules for carbon emissions at new coal-fired power plants, and they probably won't be what industry had hoped for.

NASA

Three miners are being treated for serious burns after a coal-dust fire at the North Antelope Rochelle mine on Tuesday.

The fire started while the workers were changing a bearing on a conveyor, according to Amy Louviere, a spokesperson for the Mine Safety and Health Administration. She writes in an email that coal dust filled the space the workers were in, and was ignited by the machinery. The agency is investigating.

Willow Belden / WPR

Students and researchers at the University of Wyoming now have access to high-tech equipment that will enable them to do more advanced energy research than in the past.

The university’s new $25 million Energy Innovation Center houses labs for researching better ways to extract oil and more efficient techniques to convert coal into liquids.

We recently reported that an oil and gas company operating in Wyoming was fined by the federal Office of Natural Resource Revenue for not submitting production reports. Turns out, the company has a history of poor behavior in the state, fiscally and environmentally. Although Pure Petroleum’s gross neglect of its responsibilities is somewhat of an exception, it does point to big flaws in the oil and gas industry’s reclamation system.

University of Wyoming

Wyoming has been producing oil for more than a hundred years, which means the state has a lot of mature oil fields -- fields that stopped producing a long time ago.

U.S. Geological Survey

Last week, we reported that the federal government might be selling Powder River Basin coal for less than it’s worth. As reform advocate Tom Sanzillo described the sales:

While coal producers look to international markets to make up for a soft coal market at home, experts advise that Asian coal demand will not be as strong as had been expected.

During a recent teleconference, researchers and environmentalists discussed the financial viability of building coal export terminals in the Northwest US to ship Powder River basin coal to Asia. Ross Macfarlane works for Climate Solutions, a clean-energy advocacy group. He said domestic producers didn’t account for the evolution of the coal market abroad.  

The comment period closed Monday on the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Regional Haze Plan. The plan seeks to address the issue of air pollution produced by coal fired power plants. Wyoming put together its own regional haze program, but the EPA rejected parts of it, saying it wasn't strong enough, particularly when it came to nitrogen oxide emissions at four plants.

The federal government will pay back mineral royalties that it withheld from states under the across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration.

When sequestration went into effect earlier this year, the Department of the Interior started withholding 5 percent of states' share of the royalties, which are paid on resources like coal and oil extracted from federal lands. For Wyoming, that's amounted to more than $40 million.

On Monday, DOI announced that after a legal review, it's giving the money back.

U.S. Forest Service

Commenters on the proposed Shoshone National Forest management plan favor conservation, according to a new analysis by several environmental groups.

The U.S. Forest Service received more than 23,000 comments on the proposed plan. The analysis focuses on the roughly 1,000 of those that aren't form letters. Connie Wilbert, with the Sierra Club of Wyoming, helped with the analysis. She says the results weren't unexpected.

For the most part, industry is happy with the new draft rules for baseline water testing near oil and gas wells. The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission released its latest draft of them last week.

Petroleum Association of Wyoming Vice President John Robitaille says he continues to hear from association members that baseline testing is necessary.

“In all honesty, I think we probably should have been doing this several years ago,” he says.

Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for coal on federal lands. That coal makes up about 40 percent of total coal production in the U.S. Of the 314 existing federal coal leases, nearly a quarter of the leases are in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Companies acquire these leases by bidding on the right to mine the federal coal. It has generated a lot of income, which the federal government splits with states. But not everyone thinks the program is working as it should and that the government might be losing out on money.

This week the federal government will close testimony on proposed fracking rules. 

Opponents of fracking say the proposed federal regulations are too weak and those in Wyoming say they prefer the state’s rules. 

Deb Thomas of Clark has expressed concerns about fracking in Wyoming for a number of years.  She says Wyoming’s rules are strong, but she thinks they could also be improved.  

A bill in Congress that would give states the exclusive right to regulate hydraulic fracturing has raised the ire of a national sportsmen’s advocacy group.  Sportsmen for Responsible Energy Development has released a statement supporting federal regulation.  U-S Representative for Wyoming, Cynthia Lummis is a member of the Natural Resources Committee, which sponsored House Bill 2728 against federal regulation. 

Foresters say it’s a good thing that Saratoga’s saw mill is back at work.

Saratoga Forest Management opened this January, 10 years after its predecessor, Saratoga Saw Mill, went out of business.

Wyoming State Forestry Division’s Josh Van Vlack says half of the area’s dense forests have been killed by bark beetles, but foresters can’t afford to remove the dead trees. Van Vlack says that the saw mill is paying for the rights to remove the timber, which is turns into two-by-fours.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County have announced that their joint Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed coal export facility in Washington State will include a broad analysis. The proposed Cherry Point terminal would be able to export 48 million tons of coal each year, mostly of Powder River Basin coal going to Asia.

Elizabeth Shogren/NPR

The Environmental Protection Agency is taking public comments on the extension of several water discharge permits on the Wind River Indian Reservation.

The EPA is looking at renewing existing permits that allow companies to pump waste water from oil and gas fields to the surface on the Reservation. The produced water exemption allows this practice only in the arid West. In general, state agencies have tighter regulations than the EPA about what can be pumped to the surface, but tribal land is under the EPA’s jurisdiction.    

Several groups submitted comments Thursday on the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s draft rule for groundwater testing in the state. The rule would require that energy companies test groundwater quality before and after oil and gas drilling.

Richard Garrett is a policy analyst with the Wyoming Outdoor Council, one of the groups that submitted comments. He says his group and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) made recommendations that they hope will close any potential loopholes in the law.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Media

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission approved a number of budget cuts that will help the agency deal with a seven million dollar shortfall.  A number of citizens expressed concern about the budget reductions fearing that they will negatively affect both wildlife and recreation. 

Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott says they dropped education programs, eliminated or froze 21 positions, and addressed two key areas.

Today the Congressional House Sub-Committee on Energy and Mineral Resources held a hearing about coal mining in the Powder River Basin.

A Casper company is planning to build a facility in Fort Laramie that will transfer oil from pipelines onto trains.

Bridger Pipeline Vice President Tad True is part of the team that’s working on the project. He says the goal is to get crude oil from Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota and Alberta, to markets in places that lack pipelines.

“Quite simply, the pipelines can’t get built fast enough to the markets they need to go to, namely the west coast and the east coast,” True said.

EIA

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its “Today in Energy” brief today, which details, among other things, coal exports from the U.S. According to the report, March had the highest number of coal exports yet. The top importing countries were China, the Netherlands, the UK, South Korea, and Brazil. The top five ports were all in the southern and eastern United States. Those ports exported over two and half times more coal in March alone than the Northwest ports did for all of 2012. Powder River Basin coal mostly ships from the Northwest.

The Summit on the Snake – an annual conference about use of the Snake River – will take place in Jackson this Saturday. Speakers will discuss the wildlife, history, ecology, and management of the Snake River and there will be a panel regarding the future of river management in Jackson Hole.

Snake River Fund Program Director, Margaret Creel, says the Bureau of Land Management will transfer management duties to Teton County soon, and the county needs to figure out how to manage the resource responsibly. Currently, river use is unregulated. 

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