coal

State Carbon Dioxide Emissions Data
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Wyoming’s carbon dioxide emissions per person decreased 10 percent from 2005 to 2015 but the state still has the highest emissions level in the country. According to data from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), Wyoming’s CO2 emissions are seven times the national average. Emissions levels are calculated based on electricity use, transportation, and consumption for homes, businesses, or factories. 

Two of Wyoming’s coal mines are changing ownership. Contura Energy has sold Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines to a private company called Blackjewel LLC.

House Committee on Natural Resources

It’s been a busy week for energy in Washington D.C. While you may only be hearing about the tax debate in Congress, new bills are moving forward that relate to energy development out west. Dylan Brown, a reporter for E & E news covering coal and mining, gives background on what’s being discussed and what it means.  

 

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

Clean coal is a term President Donald Trump has used a lot, both before and after he was elected.

But what is clean coal? Congress first used the term in the late 70’s early 80’s when discussions about acid rain became a bit more heated. Along came some big changes to the Clean Air Act in 1990 which cracked down on the emissions that cause acid rain, such as sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide.

WildEarth Guardians Logo
WildEarth Guardians

Conservation groups WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club recently filed a complaint with the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, OSMRE, over two coal leases approved in 2012.

The groups say Peabody Energy’s North and South Porcupine leases, which expanded the North Antelope Rochelle mine in the Powder River Basin, were improperly approved and that the company should no longer be allowed to mine there. 

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality logo
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality is changing how coal companies secure clean-up costs. For years, the department has accepted a kind of IOU based on a company’s financial strength. That’s called self-bonding.

Issues with self-bonding were highlighted in 2015 when several large coal companies went bankrupt, and were left without funds to cover reclamation costs.

Stephanie Joyce

At the site of Wyoming’s fraudulent Two Elk coal research project, another advanced coal facility wants to move in.

Wyoming New Power, Inc. is a company that plans on bringing clean coal technology to the state and selling that cleaner coal. That technology involves taking coal and removing moisture and pollutants to make it easier to ship and cleaner and more efficient to burn. This has been tried before in the state, but with little success.

Ramaco Logo
Ramaco

On October 31, Ramaco announced they will appeal a decision made this month by the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ denied the company's permit application for a coal mine in Sheridan. The state agency said the company's proposed Brook Mine application was deficient and needed more information on hydrology, subsidence, and blasting schedules, among other concerns.  

Bob LeResche, chair of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said this appeal shows Ramaco is trying to avoid fixing their application.

Powder River Basin Province of northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.
USGS

After about an eight-month process of discussion and negotiation, the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources solidified a relationship with a New York-based clean-coal company this week. Clean Coal Technologies Incorporated, or CCTI, has developed technologies focused on making coal cleaner. UW hopes to work with them to help develop their products and make them more commercially viab

Peabody Energy Logo
Peabody Energy

Peabody Energy, the largest privately held coal company in the world, experienced it’s third straight quarter of sizable profits with revenue totaling $1.48 billion this quarter - a 22% increase from last year’s third quarter. Total profit this fiscal year adds up to around $500 million. 

Peabody Energy went into bankruptcy in 2016, weighed down by billions in debt partially due an investment made in Australian metallurgical coal. In 2015, the company also saw $2 billion in losses. This past April, the company came out of bankruptcy.  

Peabody Energy

At the University of Wyoming’s College of Law, Professor Sam Kalen was looking through old case files. His office had law books and binders of cases strewn on chairs and tables as well as computer miscellany, like keyboards and old monitors, sitting on top of them.

At his desk, he rifled through a thick law book, co-authored by him, then switched to his dual-monitor computer screens. He was looking for any mention of climate assessments in old federal leasing cases back to the 1990s. It didn’t take long.

“So for example, here’s an earlier one,” Kalen said.

Logo for the Environmental Protection Agency
Public Domain

The Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday signed a proposal to repeal the Clean Power Plan — President Obama’s signature climate change legislation. The 2015 rule aims to was meant to move the country’s electric grid away from coal and towards other sources with less greenhouse gas emissions.

Wyoming provides about 40 percent of the country’s coal, and most of that goes towards electricity generation. It’s no surprise the state has opposed the Clean Power Plan — or CPP — from the start.  

Madelyn Beck/Inside Energy

 

It’s a mixture you wouldn’t usually think of: black suits, pop country music, Japanese officials and the slight smell of manure. All these things came together at the CAM-PLEX event center in Gillette, Wyo., on Sept. 21 for a discussion about coal.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

Washington rejected a key permit for the proposed Millennium Bulk coal terminal Tuesday. The terminal would have allowed coal from Wyoming and Montana to more easily reach other countries like China and Japan.

The Washington Department of Ecology rejected the terminal based on environmental impacts that came from the transportation and storage of coal.  

With permission from Rock Springs Main Street/Urban Renewal Agency

Urban Renewal Agency Director Chad Banks was leading a group of Rock Springs residents through a tunnel beneath the train tracks that break the downtown business district in half. The underpass doubles as an art gallery, meant to advertise local artists and lure people to explore both sides of the railroad.

 

The railroad gave Rock Springs its start as a coal town. Local mines fueled the trains that reached the area in the 1860s. Public Services Director Amy Allen said the city’s layout matches the scatter of those original mines.

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. 

Pages