Natural Resources & Energy

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Sage grouse have been dying out in Wyoming and across the west for years, and the bird is being considered for endangered species listing. As a result, Wyoming has made a major push to preserve prime sage grouse habitat. But recently, scientists have been warning that conservation may not be enough. Studies have recommended that in addition to protecting habitat that’s still intact, the state needs to restore areas that have been disturbed. So now, a variety of agencies are working to come up with a plan for large-scale restoration. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

As we’ve just heard, there’s a lot of concern over declining sage grouse numbers. And a lot of effort is going into keeping the birds from being included on the endangered species list. Part of that effort involves studying which aspects of human activity are most problematic. A new study published in the journal Conservation Biology examines how human-made noise – particularly the noise associated with gas development – affects sage grouse. We’re joined now by Jessica Blickley, one of the authors of the report.

Courtesy of Cameco

Intro:    For the last several years a number of companies and politicians have expressed interest in getting more actively involved in Wyoming’s Uranium industry.  Currently a task force of lawmakers is studying nuclear energy production and companies are testing the waters before they jump into the marketplace.  The upside is that Wyoming has a lot of Uranium, the downside is cost and regulations.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck has more.

Irina Zhorov

HOST: Everyone is predicting a uranium boom internationally and Wyoming has the largest deposits in the U.S. The state has a legacy of uranium mining, as well. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov looks at the boom and its history.

Dean Fitzgerald

HOST: When the Cold War caused a uranium boom in the 1950s, soil and water in the state suffered contamination. Reclamation has improved the landscape, and regulation is catching up with the industry  but it’s not perfect yet. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez reports.

REBECCA MARTINEZ: Ore from Wyoming’s rich uranium deposits was refined and concentrated into yellowcake at mills in the state before being sent to processing and enrichment facilities elsewhere. The mills produced large amounts of sandy waste called tailings, which still contained uranium.

Tristan Ahtone

HOST: As we just heard, the uranium industry may have a long way to go in earning back the public’s trust, especially on the Wind River Reservation. In 2010, the Department of Energy released well monitoring data from the Wind River Reservation. What they found was that uranium levels in a number of their wells had spiked up to 100 times the legal limit. In early May the Department of Energy released tap test results showing uranium levels nearly twice the legal limit, but later said the results were anomalies.

Willow Belden

Sublette County is home to two of Wyoming’s major oil and gas fields … and emissions from the energy production have caused smog to form – a type of smog called ozone. Ground-level ozone can cause and exacerbate respiratory problems. It’s also a problem for legal reasons: ozone levels in Sublette County have exceeded federal limits several times in the past few years. Now, the Environmental Protection Agency is stepping in. It’s designating Sublette County a “nonattainment area,” which means Wyoming is obligated to fix the problem.

Last week, the Department of Energy announced that uranium at nearly twice the legal limit had been found in the tap water of four households on the Wind River Reservation. The event marks another incident in a long and troubled history in the area.  Wyoming Public Radio's Tristan Ahtone brings us this report on the find.

This week, there was an explosion at an oil rig near Douglas. Natural gas spewed from the well, and about 50 people were evacuated from their homes. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden visited Douglas shortly after the accident and put together this montage of residents’ reactions.

U-S Senator from Wyoming John Barrasso has been very critical of the Obama administration because of its position on such things as new air standards as it applies to the coal industry… and a number of other EPA-led provisions that, he says, will just kill jobs.  Senator Barrasso joins Bob Beck from the cloak room just outside of the U-S Senate.

There are more new ports designed for coal export being proposed in the U.S. and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin coal producers are training their eye on the developments. With some of the most efficient economies of scale in the world, a larger percentage of PRB coal could be making its way across the ocean soon. What would that mean for Wyoming and the global community? Irina Zhorov reports.  

A new report by researchers at the University of Montana warns that unless energy development slows down, sage grouse populations in the Powder River Basin could die out. The study, which was commissioned by the BLM, was meant to determine whether the sage grouse population there can survive, given current oil and gas drilling activities, and what would happen to the birds if more drilling occurred or if there were new West Nile Virus outbreaks. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden spoke with Dave Naugle, who co-authored the report. He says the sage grouse population in the Powder River Basin has already declined by 82 percent as a result of energy development.

State Representative Cynthia Lummis joins us to talk about a number of issues affecting the state. The Wyoming Republican most recently had a discussion with the head of the EPA concerning water pollution in Pavillion.  She tells Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck the good news is that there seems to be a dialogue.

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During this year’s Legislative session, lawmakers proposed a joint resolution known as the Riverton Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action bill. Tailings are waste left over from mining operations. In this case, the tailings in question are from uranium mining on the Wind River Reservation. The tailings have caused groundwater contamination, which many residents believe has led to health problems.

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Starting next week, the group Trout Unlimited will be screening its new film “Green with Envy” in towns across Wyoming and Colorado. The film focuses on the proposed Flaming Gorge Pipeline, which would transport 81 billion gallons of water per year from the Flaming Gorge reservoir to the Colorado front range. Recently the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected the proposal for lack of sufficient information … but the developer plans to re-apply and move forward with the project.  Colorado has rights to some of the water that flows through the river … but various agencies and environmental groups in Wyoming are adamantly opposed to the plan. I spoke with Charles Card of Trout Unlimited about the film his group will be showing. He says they oppose the pipeline project because it would lower the water level in the reservoir by about 120 feet.

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With only a week to go until the legislative session is over, Wyoming lawmakers are reviewing a number of bills, including a joint resolution requesting Congress to provide for increased monitoring and funding for remediation of the Riverton uranium mill tailings site. Tailings constitute waste left over from mining operations. Last year we brought you a story about the site in which the Department of Energy released data showing that uranium levels in the area had spiked as high as 100 times the legal limit, and while legislative action on the issue may sound good, it’s bringing up a lot of questions, and anger. Wyoming Public Radio’s Tristan Ahtone reports.

Irina Zhorov

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The town of Medicine Bow is currently planning for a DKRW proposed coal to liquids conversion facility. The plant would be a financial boom for the state and bring jobs to the county. But this isn’t the first time Wyoming is looking into a project that would add value to its coal so it’s undergoing close scrutiny.

Western Research Institute/credit: Rebecca Martinez

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DKRW Advanced Fuels has licensed technology from GE and Exxon-Mobil to transform coal into gasoline at a proposed plant in Medicine Bow. But theirs is just one system of creating liquid fuel. Wyoming Public Radio’s Rebecca Martinez spoke with some experts about how synthetic gas, or syngas, is made.

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As we’ve just heard, existing coal-to-liquids plants emit a lot of greenhouse gases. But the proposed Medicine Bow plant is being touted as exceptionally green. Still, environmentalists have concerns about the plant’s effect on air quality and water reserves. And even if this plant is comparatively eco-friendly, future facilities may not have any incentive to follow suit.

Sara Hossaini

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Most residents we spoke with seem to be excited about the opportunities DKRW could bring. Wyoming Public Radio's Sara Hossaini heard from some of them.

TONI GEORGE: My name is Toni George, owner of JB stop and shop in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. I’m very much for it.   

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Wyoming has one of the highest rates of workplace fatalities in the nation. Recently, the state epidemiologist issued a report looking at why that’s the case and making recommendations about what should be done. Workers’ rights advocates are pushing for tougher penalties for companies that violate safety regulations. But for now, it seems the state plans to take a softer approach. Wyoming Public Radio’s Willow Belden reports.

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While the Oil and Gas industry has had a number of workplace fatalities, that has not been the case in Wyoming’s Coal Industry. Tim McCreary is Safety Manager for the Thunder Basin Coal Company.  He tells Bob Beck workplace safety is a focus.

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In the class action lawsuit Cobell vs. Salazar, plaintiff Elouise Cobell accused the Federal Government of mismanaging nearly 150-billion dollars in royalties owed to Indian landowners due to the loss and destruction of records. The government agreed to a $3.4 billion dollar settlement – and government data estimates there are up to 8,000 possible beneficiaries here in Wyoming.

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