Natural Resources & Energy

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Gage Skidmore via Flickr Creative Commons

  

Republicans in the U.S. House have created a new position charged with overseeing the Interior of the United States, which includes the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Wyoming Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis is being tapped to head up the new investigative subcommittee. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is famous for dragging in Major League Baseball players during the steroid scandal.

The Bureau of Land Management will reopen the wild horse facility in Rock Springs at the end of this month with an adoption event.

The agency is looking for people able to give wild horses a good home. The horses range from weanlings to geldings and mares.

The agency manages wild horses and burros on public lands. The animals don’t have any natural predators and are illegal to hunt. So if the number of horses and burros for a grazing area becomes too high, the BLM rounds them up for holding facilities or adoption.

The National Elk Refuge in Jackson has completed their annual classification count. For the second year in a row more than 8,000 wintering elk were counted, well over the refuge’s 5,000 elk goal.

That goal comes from the refuge’s 15 year management plan which began in 2007. The plan outlines sustainable elk and bison populations for habitat conservation and disease management in the Jackson area. The refuge has been trying to reduce the animal’s reliance on winter feeding at the refuge.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Energy storage will be a key part of the grid of the future, according to industry experts speaking at this month’s Wyoming Infrastructure Authority conference. Currently, power generation and consumption are balanced in real-time, but storage would allow power generated now to be consumed later.

“You know, I can envision a day when right next to your hot water heater you have a battery," said Mark Lauby, vice president of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, the agency that oversees the power grid. "You store it up during the day and use it at night.”

114,000 new acres of bark beetle kill has been detected in an aerial survey done by the State Forestry Division for 2014. Most of that is in Bridger-Teton and Shoshone National Forests. 

Les Koch is the division’s Forest Health Specialist and says while warmer weather didn’t help in deterring the Pine, Spruce, and Douglas-Fir beetles, they have already killed many of their suitable host trees. While 2014 did see an increase in acres affected, over the last few years the overall trend has been downward.  

Wikimedia Commons

Above-average temperatures mean grizzly bears have started to emerge from hibernation in Yellowstone National Park. Over the last five years grizzlies have tended to emerge during the first half of March, which puts Monday’s first sighting of activity 2-4 weeks sooner than usual.

Yellowstone spokesman Al Nash says that could be a problem for visitors who are more used to preparing for potential grizzly encounters in the warm summer months.

A Wyoming hunter now holds the world record for the largest elk killed with a crossbow. Albert Henderson took the elk in the Shoshone National Forest during last fall’s crossbow season.

The elk scored 408 points on the Boone and Crockett scoring system. Wyoming Game and Fish spokesman Al Langston says it takes an exceptional hunter to make such a clean kill with a crossbow since it means getting very close to make a shot.

Wyoming is planning to send a delegation to Washington State later this year to lobby on behalf of coal export terminals. Last year, the state invited members of eight Pacific Northwest tribes to visit Wyoming on an all-expenses paid tour of the region’s coal mines, but only one tribe accepted the invitation. Now, the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority is hoping to take the tour to them. According to Loyd Drain, the agency's director, WIA will host two meetings in Washington later this year in an effort to convince tribes that coal exports are a good thing.

A conference in Torrington on Wednesday will explore the economic benefits of organic farming in arid climates like Wyoming and Nebraska.

Speakers at the conference will offer advice on a wide range of subjects including how to get certified as an organic farm, composting and growing potatoes for organic starch. Event organizer and soil fertility specialist Jay Norton says the event is not meant to stir debate of the merits of organic versus conventional farming. 

Kim Seng, Flickr Creative Commons

The senior wildlife biologist at Grand Teton National Park is retiring after 26 years on the job. During his tenure, Steve Cain worked with state and other wildlife managers to improve conditions for wildlife, not just in the park, but across the 22-million-acre Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Rebecca Huntington has more.
 

HUNTINGTON: When Steve Cain first came to Grand Teton in 1989, he was the only biologist, alongside a fisheries expert, overseeing the park's wildlife. The tools he had to work with were pretty limited.

Yellowstone Celebrates 20 Years With Wolves

Feb 6, 2015
Yellowstone National Park

Wolves were brought back to Yellowstone 20 years ago this week. They had been missing from the Park’s landscape for almost 70 years. Their reintroduction caught the world’s attention. But wolves are still controversial and still federally protected in Wyoming.

Humans standing alongside the road howled as Canadian wolves were carried into Yellowstone through the Roosevelt arch in January 1995. Excited tourists came from around the world to watch in them Lamar Valley the next spring. They followed the animals through spotting scopes.

Wikimedia Commons

In recent years there’s been plenty of discussion and a lot of worry in Wyoming about the future of coal. Politicians have blamed the federal government for the coal industry's struggles and pushed for coal export terminals to save it. But until now, there’s been very little data to back up the talk. This week, economists at the University of Wyoming previewed a study looking at coal’s role in the state economy as well as its prospects for the future. Rob Godby is the Director of the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy and lead author of the report.

INSIDE ENERGY: Meet The Men Who Study Man Camps

Feb 6, 2015
Andrew Cullen

“Man camps,” or temporary worker housing, are a defining characteristic of an oil boom. Development happens so fast, there’s never enough time to build adequate permanent housing. When oil prices come crashing down, the man camps empty out.

Melodie Edwards

When people think of ravens, they often think Edgar Allen Poe:

A senior executive at one of the nation’s largest power companies says Wyoming needs to be working on solutions for compliance with the Clean Power Plan. The plan calls for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions from the power sector nationwide by 2030.

FMC

A Connecticut-based company has purchased Wyoming’s largest trona mine for $1.6 billion.

The multinational company FMC has owned the Green River trona mine for more than 60 years, but last fall, it announced that it would sell off the business to pay down debt. Tronox, a company that’s primarily involved in titanium mining, appears to have been the highest bidder.

In a conference call with investors, Tronox CEO Tom Casey indicated that the company is not planning major changes to operations at the mine, which is the largest employer in southwest Wyoming.

 A wildlife advocacy group has released its annual report card on the welfare of prairie dogs in the West, and the State of Wyoming received a "D." WildEarth Guardians spokesperson Taylor Jones says for the first time, Wyoming participated in a survey of the state’s prairie dog population. And it designated a research site to investigate the plague, which has contributed to the species’ decline. But she says the state still has a long way to go.

Department of Energy

A long-planned clean coal project in Illinois is dead after the Department of Energy pulled the plug on the majority of its funding.  

FutureGen 2.0 would have been the country’s first near-zero emissions coal-fired power plant.  But without the one billion dollars in federal funding, which was originally awarded in 2010 under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, companies involved say they will have to cancel the project entirely.    

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

 

A massive Wyoming wind project that would send electricity west has gotten approval for an important part of its plan. The Bureau of Land Management announced Friday that key infrastructure components of the proposed Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Project have cleared environmental review: a road, a rail facility, and a rock quarry.  Heather Schultz, the project manager from Wyoming’s Bureau of Land Management, said these elements will be vital for building and operating the wind farm.  

Senate Energy GOP

A bill sponsored by Wyoming Senator John Barrasso that would speed up processing of applications to export natural gas internationally/to international markets is making its way through Congress.

Stephanie Joyce

 

A hundred years after it embroiled the Harding administration in scandal, the government has sold Wyoming’s Teapot Dome oilfield to a private company.

Teapot Dome was set aside by Congress in 1915 as a strategic petroleum reserve for the Navy, but in the 1920s, Interior Secretary Albert Fall secretly sold parts of the field to private oil companies in exchange for bribes, earning the dubious distinction of being the first Cabinet-level official to be jailed for corruption. In the decades since, the oilfield has mostly been used for government testing.

Wikimedia Commons

The budgets of oil states are going to be hard hit by the recent slide in oil prices. Measured in dollars, Texas is the clear loser, but in terms of actual on-the-ground impacts, it isn't quite so simple. In the country’s number two oil-producing state, North Dakota, falling prices have barely caused a ripple, while in Alaska (ranked fourth), lawmakers are calling it a “fiscal apocalypse.” In Wyoming (ranked eighth), reaction has been subdued, but that may not last.

Emily Guerin

The pipeline that burst earlier this month and spewed oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana made headlines. But just across the border in North Dakota another pipeline was quietly leaking a potentially more disastrous substance: wastewater from oil wells.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

The experimental Microsoft Data Plant in Cheyenne, Wyoming is the first data center in the country to be powered solely by the wastewater treatment plant next door. Or more specifically, off of the methane that is emitted when what goes down our toilets and sinks is processed.

The American public lost out on $850 million dollars in potential coal royalty revenue between 2008 and 2012, according to a new study from Headwaters Economics. 

The study says the federal coal royalty system is in need of reform. The group's analysis shows that coal companies pay a much lower royalty rate on public lands than other extractive industries -- roughly five percent of market price. By comparison, oil and gas companies pay roughly 12 percent. Mark Haggerty says that's partly because of the complex marketing system for coal. 

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has fired back at a federal provision banning the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from placing the sage grouse on the endangered species list for one year. The provision was a rider in the omnibus spending bill, passed last month.

Patricia Lavin

Scientists at the Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center are analyzing 250 tissue samples of elk, wild bison, and livestock in an effort to better understand how the disease brucellosis spreads.

Brucellosis sickens large mammals like elk and cattle, and can cause them to abort their young.  U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Pauline Kamath says a commonly held theory has been that Yellowstone’s wild animals have been infected with brucellosis by elk on Wyoming feed grounds. But her data shows that may not be as common as previously thought.

Stephanie Joyce

A coalition of environmental and landowner groups have reached a settlement with the State of Wyoming and Halliburton in a lawsuit over fracking chemical disclosure.

Wyoming was the first state in the nation to require public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but the state has also granted more than a hundred exemptions to that rule to companies concerned that disclosure would reveal trade secrets.

State support is critical to getting value-added mineral processing facilities to set up shop in Wyoming, backers told a legislative committee Monday. A bill currently under consideration by the Legislature would set up a mechanism for the state to invest in value-added projects. The governor’s office, which sponsored the bill, says it’s particularly targeted towards projects that would convert natural gas to liquids, like diesel, although it could apply to any of the state’s minerals.

Stephanie Joyce

Legislators had lots of questions for oil company representatives at a special seminar convened Monday to discuss the recent oil price slide. Oil prices are down more than 60 percent since June. The State of Wyoming gets roughly 20 percent of its revenue from oil, so prices have been a hot topic in the halls of the Legislature.

Devon Energy representative Aaron Ketter said his company’s best-case scenario has oil prices rising in as little as 6 months. The worst-case scenario is for 24 months. But he cautioned, rising doesn’t mean returning to previous levels. 

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