Natural Resources & Energy

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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.

Department of Energy 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. 

An international conference about mining reclamation ended in Laramie today. The American Society of Mining and Reclamation and the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center hosted the event, which featured technical presentations about reclamation issues as well as policy questions and case studies.

UW professor and director of the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center, Pete Stahl, says there were many Australian and Chinese stakeholders in attendance.   

Department of Energy EIA

The Sierra Club and partner organizations filed a lawsuit today against BNSF Railways and several coal producers. The suit claims the companies are violating the federal Clean Water Act when they discharge coal dust along railways from the Powder River Basin without permits to do so.

Pacific Northwest Regional Press Secretary for Sierra Club’ Beyond Coal campaign, Krista Collard, says a letter of intent to file the suit was sent to all parties two months ago, but they did little to limit coal dust pollution.

Wyoming hosts mining reclamation conference

Jun 4, 2013

Mining industry representatives and researchers are gathering in Laramie this week for the meeting of the American Society of Mining and Reclamation. The last time Wyoming hosted the American Society of Mining and Reclamation was in 2007. Peter Stahl, director of the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center, says the fact that the industry gathering has returned to Wyoming so soon is a testament to the state’s role in the field of land reclamation.

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced the approval of three major renewable energy projects on public lands. Jewell emphasized her commitment to President Obama’s all-of-the-above energy strategy and said one of her top priorities was to continue the work started by her predecessor, Ken Salazar, to expand the nation’s renewable energy portfolio.  

A coalition of Wyoming groups has filed a rulemaking petition to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to address oil and gas development in the state.

The petition focuses on three main issues: increasing the setback of drilling rigs from homes, schools and businesses, adequate enforcement in the case of accidents and spills…and reducing the practice of flaring. Powder River Basin Resource Council’s Jill Morrison says flaring has been a recognized problem for some time.

The U-S Department of Interior released an updated draft proposal of fracking rules for federal and tribal lands on Thursday. The rule-making process started in 2010, and the latest draft incorporates feedback from more than 177-thousand public comments submitted.

The uranium market is slowing after a brief boom in the years after 2005. Increasing costs for the industry and uncertainty are making operators reconsider projects.

Cameco Resources’ President Paul Goranson told the legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Interim Committee that Cameco will now aim to increase production to about 36 million pounds of yellowcake by 2018…rather than the previously announced 40 million pounds.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has started work on a study to determine the feasibility of regulating a larger share of uranium mining in the state.

Currently the industry is regulated by both federal and state agencies, which some operators say is burdensome, repetitive, and increases the time necessary to receive a permit. The legislature passed a bill this session commissioning the study about becoming what’s called an agreement state.

Encana’s Moneta Divide Natural Gas and Oil Development Project outside of Casper is still waiting for an Environmental Impact Statement, but it is slated to receive a record of decision in 2016. The proposed four thousand well development has brought up questions surrounding water management and air quality. But at the legislature’s Joint Mineral, Business, and Economic Development Interim Committee meeting yesterday, Natrona County Commissioner Rob Hendry said he wants the project to go ahead.  

A lawsuit filed by Tripower Resources says the energy company is not responsible for about $885,000 in back taxes from 2008 to 2010. Tripower says it did not own the wells from which these production taxes accumulated during the time period in question. But Campbell, Crook, and Converse Counties have listed the company as tax-delinquent. They’re applying taxes from current production to the owed back-taxes. Converse County treasurer Joel Schell says, according to statute, the current owner is responsible for any unpaid taxes.     

Three protesters were arrested yesterday at the Peabody Energy shareholders meeting in Gillette. United Mine Workers of America representatives were demonstrating against pension cuts to retired miners that came about when Peabody unloaded some of its pension responsibilities on a company that has since declared bankruptcy. Other demonstrators were there to protest Peabody projects and conduct. An organizer from Missouri, Arielle Klagsbrun, said the meeting was held at Gillette College and the arrests happened in the parking lot… 

A report by the Western Organization of Resource Councils says the oil and gas industry is using at least seven billion gallons of water per year in just four states: Colorado, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. The report says after industry is done with that water, it turns into a hazardous material, and in some cases cannot be reused for other purposes.

Powder River Basin Resource Council member Robert LeResche says he’s also worried about states’ lack of regulations regarding the quantity of water used.

Protesters are gathering in Gillette this week to demonstrate against the Patriot Coal Company during Arch and Peabody Coal’s annual shareholder meetings. Patriot was formed in 2007 when Peabody unloaded its operations east of the Mississippi, along with its long-term health care obligations to some of its retirees. Arch formed a similar company, called Magnum, which was later acquired by Patriot along with another set of benefited retirees.  However, Patriot filed bankruptcy last summer, citing “substantial and unsustainable legacy costs.”

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission recently okayed an aquifer exemption that would permit Encana Oil and Gas to pump waste water from their oil and gas projects in the Moneta Divide into the Madison Aquifer, about 60 miles outside of Casper. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that the exemption isn’t exactly a rarity, but it does bring up some big questions.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has been running an Engine Emissions Study for almost two years now. For the most part, Wyoming oil and gas fields are not connected to the grid and so they end up running on engines, which emit pollutants into the air. The study set out to evaluate emissions from these generators around the state. Results from the study show that a large percentage of the engines fail the tests. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov spoke with the DEQ Air Quality Engineer in charge of the study, Jon Walker, about why that is.

Over the years, many researchers have looked at a variety of research and economic development projects using Wyoming coal.  The idea is to open up new markets for it and to make it more viable for businesses and the public to use.  Much of this has surrounded coal gasification.   There has been a belief that coal could be used as a form of liquid fuel.  That was especially useful when oil supplies appeared limited in the United States…but as the country entered a technology revolution and opened up more resources…the interest dropped.  Experts say that the other reason interest has waned i

‘Gasland’ is a documentary about the negative effects of natural gas drilling. The narrator in the movie is seeking answers about natural gas development in light of a growing play around his own home in the Delaware River Basin, and his inquiries take him on a road trip to communities around the U.S. that have already been drilled into and have something to say about it. When the movie came out, it made big waves, and ‘Gasland-2’ premiers this weekend. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports on what’s changed since the first movie came out in 2010.

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