coal

Dan Boyce

At 11 p.m. on a recent Friday night, the West Elk Mine outside Somerset opened its gates. Cars and trucks started rolling out, signaling the end of a coal mining shift in this rural pocket of Colorado.

Workers had been opening up a new section of the mine four or five miles underground, a tough job made tougher considering that the current economics of the coal industry means fewer workers at the mine.

Bob Beck / Wyoming Public Radio

West Virginia wants to use federal dollars to subsidize Appalachian coal. Some think that’s picking favorites — not just over natural gas and renewables, but over other coal states. 

Madelyn Beck

When Alpha Natural Resources went into bankruptcy in 2015, it formed a new company called Contura Energy with some of Alpha’s best coal assets - mines in Wyoming and Appalachia.

Earlier this summer, Contura announced it was going to go public, hoping to expand in the U.S. and beyond. Usually, companies go public and sell shares to raise money and grow their business.  

Now, Contura is backing out of that plan.

The company said it’s because of "capital market conditions."

Madelyn Beck

An accident in Colorado brings the total coal mine deaths this year to 11: more than in all of 2016.

Blue Mountain Energy, Inc. released a statement Aug. 3 saying a worker at their Deserado Mine died the night before. 

"The accident occurred above ground inside the coal processing building, as the worker was attempting to remove a portion of a steel beam," it said.

The employee's name had not been released as of August 4. That accident is now under investigation.

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

A changing climate may be bad PR for fossil fuels, but it could help their bottom line.

Two major coal companies released earnings reports in late July stating how higher temperatures mean coal stockpiles are being eaten up. Both Arch Coal and Cloud Peak Energy are hoping for a long, hot summer so that trend continues.

Energy Information Administraion

The fracking boom is propelling shale-rich states to the top of the nation’s list of energy suppliers, but a new report shows Wyoming still takes the lead despite a struggling coal industry.

Wyoming has been spreading more energy around the nation than any other state since the 80s. But its supply of energy to other states has been sliding since 2008, mirroring a decline in coal production.

A new report from the Energy Information Administration shows that as Wyoming slides downward, other states have ramped up oil and gas production.

Cooper McKim

A conservation group has expressed skepticism about a federal grant announced by Ramaco Carbon, LLC, a coal company that intends to build a mine north of Sheridan. Ramaco recently announced a $7 million grant from the Department of Energy to develop low-cost carbon-fiber components made from coal instead of oil.

Proposed Brook Mine Land
Cooper McKim

A press release from Ramaco, a Kentucky-based coal company, says the Department of Energy has awarded it a $7 million grant.  The grant is geared towards developing a low-cost carbon fiber using coal as the raw material. Carbon fiber is traditionally made with oil.

 

Office of Governor Matt Mead

The accounts that fund education saw an unexpected revenue boost, which brought the predicted education shortfall from $400 million down to $250 million, according to Governor Matt Mead.

 

Mead said coal is coming back — along with oil and gas — but he cautioned the state is still running short on funds. He added that means the legislature will have some hard work to do during the 2018 Budget Session, as they consider further budget reductions or alternate revenue through new taxes.

 

Second to last day of contested-case hearing in front of the Environmental Quality Council
Cooper McKim

Earlier this summer, a permit for the first new coal mine to open in Wyoming in 50 years was on trial before the state’s Environmental Quality Council, or E.Q.C. It took a full seven days of hearings, with three groups against the permit, and two groups in favor, testifying before the council in a windowless room in Cheyenne.  

Now, the council has until August to make their decision.

 

Part of the land where the proposed Brook Mine may be dug
Cooper McKim

On a clear, sunny day, Jeff Barron drives over a copper-colored hill in the Powder River Basin near Sheridan. He parks, hops out of his car and walks to the edge of a large open field. Cows are grazing in the distance.

 

He says a new coal operation would start right here.

 

"It will mine out coal some 2,000 feet that way and 2,000 feet that way,” Barron says.

 

Aaron Schrank

A funding crisis brought on by a downturn in the coal industry has left policy makers struggling to figure out how to fund education. This year school districts took a hit of $34 million to their operating budgets.

 

That’s primarily money for teachers and staff, as well as materials and supplies. But the funding for school construction and maintenance is also running out.

 

EQC Hearing at the Game and Fish Department in Cheyenne
Cooper McKim

A hearing that will decide the fate of Wyoming’s first potential new coal mine in decades has come to an end. Ramaco’s Brook Mine would be built in Sheridan in the Tongue River Valley.

The Environmental Quality Council, or EQC, heard seven days of testimony from landowners, geologists, and regulators. A central question during the hearing was how the mine would affect water sources in the area. There was a coal mine in the area several decades ago that caused many wells to be drawn down.

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

 

The Gillette Workforce Center had a front row seat for the town’s coal woes.

The office has cream-colored walls, decorated with motivational posters and pictures of coal mines. Vermona Petersen is the manager of the center, which helps people find a new job.

“At the height of the layoffs last year, we were seeing between 250 and 300 people a day,” she said. 

Wyoming coal mines laid off more than 450 workers last March amid financial troubles exacerbated by low natural gas prices and debt.

Peabody Energy announced a huge increase in revenue for its first quarter of 2017. Many see this as a victory for the struggling energy industry, while some don’t believe it will last.

 

Peabody Energy is the largest coal mining firm in the world. They went bankrupt the first quarter of last year. At their Wyoming complex, the company laid off 15% of their workforce. 

Wikipedia

President Donald Trump has just finished his first 100 days in office. When it comes to energy and the environment, he has already taken some aggressive steps toward fulfilling major campaign promises. Inside Energy reporter Leigh Paterson joined Wyoming Public Radio’s Caroline Ballard to review President Trump’s energy policy in his first few months. 

Wikimedia Commons

At a presentation at the University of Wyoming’s Energy Innovation Center, an energy economist argued that the coal industry will likely never recover to previous levels. That’s despite a small rebound in the first quarter of this year because of a cold winter.

Stephanie Joyce

Gillette and other towns in Northeast Wyoming may be looking to carbon products - goods like water filters and building materials – to stabilize the coal industry.

The New Growth Alliance, which includes Sheridan, Buffalo, and Gillette, is a group focused on economic development in Northeast Wyoming. It recently held a conference to discuss alternative coal markets, and now the communities are combining efforts to recruit other types of businesses, as well.  

Stephanie Joyce

The $2 million funding for coal workers comes from a U.S. Department of Labor grant meant to aid dislocated workers. Eligible workers can put the money towards training programs in other fields. 

Stephanie Joyce

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he is embarking on a re-evaluation of the system for approving new coal leases. The question of whether the American public is getting fair market value on those leases led the Obama administration to place a moratorium on new leases. Zinke lifted that moratorium two weeks ago.

Stephanie Joyce

Last week, President Trump lifted a short-lived moratorium on new coal leases imposed during the last months of the Obama administration. But the reason for that ban wasn’t just environmental.

Rob Godby is the director at the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming. He said President Obama halted new coal leases primarily to evaluate whether, as owners of federal lands, the American public is getting a fair market value from coal companies.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

A lot happened in the world of coal mining in the last week or so. The biggest coal company is the United States—Peabody Energy—emerged from bankruptcy, and the Interior Secretary lifted an Obama-era ban on new coal leases.

But what does it all mean for Wyoming’s coal future? To figure it out, Wyoming Public Radio’s Melodie Edwards sat down with Rob Godby, director at the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy at the University of Wyoming.

Nearly a year after filing, Peabody Coal has emerged from bankruptcy by reducing its debt by$5 billion and by providing third party bonding for mine restoration. That’s according to a company press release this week.

Rob Godby, director at the Center for Energy Economics and Public Policy, said the key was a reduction in the company's costs in Australia. According to Godby, Peabody sank a lot of debt into expanding its market there, but that was only one reason they went bankrupt.

Wikimedia Commons

Wyoming's congressional delegation is thrilled with the executive order President Trump signed to unwind President Obama’s climate change initiatives. But some in their party aren’t happy with the effort to roll back America’s role in combating global warming.

Stephanie Joyce

  

Coal country was celebrating this week when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lifted a coal moratorium signed into law by the Obama Administration 14 months ago. But now the question is whether coal companies will even decide to expand their production in states like Wyoming. With the price of natural gas so low, coal has been having a hard time competing. But if and when companies do expand, their first stop is the Bureau of Land Management to submit an application. Right now BLM has 11 applications, but all but one was submitted over ten years ago.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

This week, President Trump lifted a moratorium on new coal leases signed into law 14 months ago by President Obama. But Wyoming's Bureau of Land Management office says, even while that moratorium was in effect, the agency continued to take in lease applications for potential mining projects.

Wikimedia Commons

Two orders were signed Wednesday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, one of which overturns the Obama administration moratorium on all new coal leases on federal land. 

In a teleconference, Zinke said his agency has not yet decided whether to raise royalty rates, but a federal advisory committee will be re-established to study whether or not Americans get a fair return on natural resources from public land, and will include state, tribal, and other advocacy group members. 

Zachary Wheeler

Wildlife advocates are among those concerned about the presidential executive order to reverse the Clean Power Act and lift a moratorium on new coal leases. The National Wildlife Federation says migrating mule deer and pronghorn are suffering from the effects of energy development and benefited from federal regulations of the industry. 

Tribal Partnerships Director Garrit Voggesser says market forces will likely limit how many coal jobs actually return to Wyoming, but he says dwindling wildlife will hurt the state’s economy.

pixabay

The Clean Power Plan may face some serious changes, as President Donald Trump is expected to sign an executive order this week reversing the Obama administration’s commitment to regulate carbon dioxide produced by coal-burning power plants. 

The long-expected executive order is rumored to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to slash regulations of coal-related carbon dioxide emissions by re-writing and re-enacting the plan. From the beginning, industry groups have criticized Obama’s plan for eliminating jobs.

Stephanie Joyce

 

The House Revenue Committee killed a bill Friday that would have lowered the coal industry’s severance tax from seven to six percent.

The Coal industry has struggled over the last couple of years and Gillette Representative Tim Hallinan said he hoped that the decrease would spur industry and prevent further bankruptcies, but he said it’s unknown whether or not it would create jobs. For Laramie Representative Dan Furphy that was a deal breaker.

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