Natural Resources & Energy

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Willow Belden

A new survey released last week by several journalism advocate groups is asking people to send in examples of how government agencies may have blocked their access to public officials or data. 

Michael Morisy is the founder of Muck Rock, a group working on the "Access Denied" Project. He says, in recent years, government agencies have started requiring that reporters submit their questions in writing or talk to a spokesperson, rather than directly to an official.

Environmental advocates are celebrating this week after Congress passed a bipartisan spending bill that at one point included several provisions blocking conservation efforts.

After much talk of letting it lapse, the 50-year-old Land and Water Conservation Fund was re-authorized to fund city parks and national park in-holdings. It also gave a 6% increase to federal land management agencies, a total of over $32 billion.

In the budget deal announced Tuesday night, Congress agreed to lift the decades-old crude export ban.

The export ban dates back to the 1970s, when there were fears about oil shortages, but in the last few years, producers in North Dakota, the Rockies and Texas have been pumping huge amounts of oil. That, in turn, has driven down prices.

Although few expect to see significant exports in the short-term, lifting the ban could help reverse that price trend—and keep some struggling companies in business.  

As a part of a bill to keep the government funded lawmakers have struck a bipartisan deal that lifts an oil export ban that Wyoming Senator John Barrasso has been pushing. It’s been four decades since U.S. energy companies could sell crude oil overseas. Barrasso said today that the compromise is a huge win for Republicans. 

As Arch Coal's financial health continues to decline, Western landowner groups are raising concerns about the company's ability to clean up its mines in the future. 

The Western Organization of Resource Councils, including the Powder River Basin Resource Council, filed a formal complaint today with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality over Arch Coal's ongoing mining operations.

Google Earth

After failing to make an interest payment Tuesday, industry analysts say one of Wyoming’s largest coal companies is one step closer to potentially declaring bankruptcy. Arch Coal invoked the 30-day grace period on its $90 million payment, saying it will use that time to continue "constructive discussions with various creditors."

Making Energy From Waste: The Other Natural Gas

Dec 14, 2015
Rebecca Jacobson / Inside Energy

Every day, a facility on the outskirts of Grand Junction, Colorado takes in 8 million gallons of what people have flushed down their toilets and washed down their sinks. The water coming out the other end of the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant is cleaner than the Colorado River it flows into. The organic solids strained from that water are now serving a new purpose -- producing fuel for city vehicles.  

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

Carbon dioxide emissions have a pretty bad reputation these days. The Paris Climate Conferencebrought together delegations from all over the world in an effort to cut carbon emissions and avoid catastrophic global warming. But right now, the dirtiest fuel - coal - still supplies nearly 40% of the electricity in the U.S. and in even more in many developing countries.

Wyoming County Commission Association

Imagine buying a house but, when you go to move in, the whole family bickers about who should get which bedroom, how to arrange the furniture, whether to landscape or not. And since no one can decide, you just...let the house sit empty.

uwyo.edu

Wyoming has long considered itself a leader in carbon management... how to capture and store carbon. And with the world's attention focused on the climate talks in Paris, the question of how to keep carbon out of the atmosphere has never been more pertinent. 

Kipp Coddington is the new head of the University of Wyoming's Carbon Management Institute, and he sat down with Wyoming Public Radio's Stephanie Joyce to talk about the future of carbon storage technologies.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

The New York Stock Exchange is threatening to de-list Arch Coal, one of Wyoming's largest coal companies.

Companies listed on the exchange have to meet certain criteria, including maintaining a market value above $50 million. Arch's value has been below that threshold for more than a month. 

The company has 45 days to submit an appeal, in the form of a plan for how it will return to compliance with the exchange's criteria.

National Digital Library of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Even as Yellowstone grizzly bear numbers drop, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it may announce their delisting from the Endangered Species List as early as January 1st.

In a letter to Western wildlife agencies, the agency agreed to allow the number of bears to decline from 714 down to 600 for hunting or livestock conflicts. Below that, they could only be killed if they were a danger to people. 

The Center for Biological Diversity attorney Andrea Santarsiere says it’s not time to let state’s take over grizzly management.

Google Earth

The Secretary of the Interior called coal mine self-bonding “a big issue” in testimony to a Congressional committee Wednesday.

Coal companies typically have to put up money before they mine, to guarantee cleanup, but self-bonding gives companies a pass if they are deemed financially healthy.

  

Four years ago this week, the town of Pavillion, Wyoming was launched into the national debate over fracking when the Environmental Protection Agency released a draft study linking the practice to groundwater contamination in the area. After coming under fire for its conclusions, the agency abandoned its study and turned the investigation over to the state.

 

nature.org

Last week, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to slow down the loss of wildlife habitat to human development. Governor Mead’s Natural Resources Policy Advisor, Jeremiah Reiman says the memo took Western states by surprise. 

“We do share frustration that it was developed without input from many of us.”

But he does hope the feds borrow from Wyoming’s approach to the greater sage grouse, which didn’t just seek to protect the bird, but its entire habitat.

Alpha Natural Resources has reached an agreement with West Virginia that aims to ensure some of the bankrupt coal miner's future clean-up costs will be covered. The deal is similar to Wyoming's deal with the  company.

The agreement requires Alpha Natural Resources to put up $39 million in financial assurances for its $244 million dollars in self-bonded clean-up costs. Self-bonding is a program that gives companies a pass on putting aside money for clean-up costs if they can pass a test of financial strength.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Going forward, oil and gas companies in Wyoming will need to pay more upfront to cover the potential costs of clean-up down the road.

Companies have to post a bond before they begin drilling to ensure compliance with regulations and to cover the costs of clean-up if they go bankrupt or abandon their wells. The bonds are returned once wells are properly reclaimed.

Currently, Wyoming requires a bond of $75,000 to cover all of a company’s wells in the state, although many companies were grandfathered in under a previous $25,000 requirement.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Oil prices hit new lows Monday, after the news Friday that OPEC would not cut production. But several proposals for oil and gas projects in Wyoming are moving forward despite the price slump.

The Bureau of Land Management is beginning to assess the environmental impacts of a proposed 1500 well project that would straddle the border between Converse and Campbell counties. EOG Resources is behind the Greater Crossbow project. If it were to move forward, the company would drill the wells over the course of a decade—but that’s a ways off. 

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Proposals to export Wyoming coal through ports on the U.S. West Coast are in limbo, facing environmental opposition and lengthy permitting processes, but an export terminal in British Columbia just got the green light from regional authorities.

Port Metro Vancouver approved the coal facility’s permit on the same day global leaders kicked off climate talks in Paris. The port authority determined that the port would not have a "significant adverse environmental impact." As it’s currently proposed, the facility would be able to ship 4 million tons of Powder River Basin coal a year.

Geof Wilson / Flickr

The likelihood of rising oil prices dimmed after OPEC declined to put a cap on production at its latest meeting in Vienna on Friday.

 

Oil prices fell below $40 a barrel on the news that OPEC couldn’t come to an agreement on a production cap. Led by Saudi Arabia, the oil cartel has declined to cut production in the last year, even in a market flooded with oil. The strategy is intended to squeeze out higher-cost competitors, like U.S. shale producers. And it appears to be working.

 

Flickr Creative Commons

This month, global leaders are gathered in Paris to make a plan to combat climate change. There is broad scientific consensus that climate change is real, serious and caused by humans—but political consensus in this country has been elusive, often clouded by doubt. Over the years, climate denial arguments have changed, but the result has stayed the same: blocking action on climate change.

As an energy reporter in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state, it’s not uncommon for me to hear climate change denial. For example:

Wyoming Public Media

Today, nearly 40% of all coal produced in the U.S. comes from Wyoming. In order to access that coal, companies use huge machines to move dirt out of the way. That means a lot of land, over 170 thousand acres, is currently dug up by mining operations in the state. And reclaiming it- restoring it to what it once was- is expensive.

Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge

The shadows of cottonwood trees grow long as the sun sets over Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Wyoming. A perfect time to spot wildlife on the Green River. Among the reeds, I see a white patch with a long neck. A trumpeter swan. Refuge project leader Tom Koerner passes me a pair of binoculars.

“That's probably a single bird and right in this wetland unit we just drove by there's three different pairs that nest in here,” Koerner says. 

Wyoming County Commissioners Association

There are 45 wilderness study areas scattered around the state on federal lands that are, in effect, stuck in limbo; only an act of Congress can make them true wilderness or release them for other uses.

But a new program called the Wyoming Public Land Initiative introduced Wednesday at the Select Federal Natural Resource Management Committee in Cheyenne would hand over the process of making that decision to county governments.

Wyoming County Commissioners Association Director Pete Obermueller says, the time has come to deal with those lands.

Stephanie Joyce

    

The Wyoming Supreme Court has decided an oil and gas company is liable for paying royalties and the costs of cleanup even though it sold its wells.

Pennaco Energy, a subsidiary of Marathon Oil, had sold its coal-bed methane wells in the Powder River Basin to High Plains Gas. High Plains subsequently went out of business without paying surface owners any royalties and without cleaning up the wells.

Greys River Wildlife Habitat Management Area

Chronic wasting disease spread through herds of elk and deer at a higher than usual this year. Normally, it’s found in less than five new hunting areas around the state but this year it turned up in seven new areas.

But Wyoming Game and Fish Deputy Chief of Wildlife Scott Edberg says only one of those new areas was not right next door to an area where the disease had been found in the past, and that was on the South Fork of the Shoshone River.

How important are the Paris climate talks to you?

Nov 30, 2015
2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference Logo

How important are the Paris climate talks to you?

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Green River Recreation Department

It’s been a decade and a half of drought for Western states, many of which depend on the Colorado River for water. That includes Wyoming where the main branch of the Colorado—the Green River—originates in the Wind River Range.

The Upper Colorado River Basin states have decided to try a water conservation program long used in the Lower Basin states that pays water users to let their excess water flow back into the river.

With the Paris climate talks just around the corner, environmental groups are asking the Department of the Interior to consider climate change when approving coal mine projects. 

The letter, signed by activists like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club calls on DOI to deny five proposed mine expansion plans in Wyoming, North Dakota, Utah, Montana, and Colorado. 

Energy Information Administration

Wyoming's total carbon emissions are on the rise, even as the state's per-capita emissions have fallen.

Wyoming’s falling per-capita emissions followed the national trend from 2005 to 2013. Forty-eight states’ per-capita emissions fell, while just three rose, according to the Energy Information Administration.

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