energy

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The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission introduced a rule this week designed to head off conflict between landowners and companies as drilling activity moves into populated areas of the state. But so far, reaction to the proposal has been less-than-positive. Wyoming Public Radio’s energy reporter, Stephanie Joyce, joins Bob Beck to talk about what’s been proposed and why landowners aren’t happy with it.

Bob Beck: At the center of this debate are something called “setbacks” – what is a setback and why is it so important?

Stephanie Joyce

It’s lunchtime in Douglas, Wyoming and the line of cars at the McDonald’s drive-thru wraps around the building. A hiring poster hangs in the window and the parking lot is full. Leaning out the window of his black pick-up truck, Troy Hilbish says he had no idea oil prices have fallen more than a quarter in recent months. But he knows what falling oil prices mean. 

“If the oil prices go up, we drill more," he says. "If they go down, we don't drill as much.”

(This is the first in an occasional series on the financing behind the country’s energy boom.)

Oil prices are slipping to levels not seen in years. That is bad for oil companies, but it has to be good for consumers, right?

The story is more complicated than that.  Nearly all of us with retirement accounts--the tens of millions of Americans with IRAs, 401Ks, 403Bs, or pension funds--are actually solidly invested in oil and gas companies.

Wyoming Public Media

This weekend the Powder River Basin Resource Council will hold its 42nd meeting at 4 p.m.at the Sheridan Holiday Inn. The Keynote speaker is Dr. Jeffrey Lockwood, professor of Natural Sciences and Humanities at the University of Wyoming, who discuss the topic “Living Behind the Carbon Curtain: Wyoming, Energy and Censorship.”  

The energy industry can have an impact on politics in Wyoming, but other states as well. In North Dakota political spending is way up, with 17 million spent this year, more than double what was spent in 2010. Inside Energy’s Emily Guerin reports on why the stakes have suddenly gotten so high.

North Dakota has always been a friendly, easy place to vote. It is the only state in the country without voter registration, and precincts are small enough that poll volunteers often recognize people who come through the door.

What would the nation’s energy policy look like if Republicans capture the Senate this November? Matt Laslo caught up with Wyoming lawmakers and energy analysts to find out the potential impact on the state’s energy sector if the GOP gains control of the upper chamber.

Leigh Paterson

Climate change is a controversial topic in this election cycle, especially when it comes to teaching it in school.  So far only 12 states have adopted a new set of science education standards that include the human impacts on global warming  - and Wyoming is not one of them.

Natalia Macker, who is running to represent District 22 in the Wyoming State House, said something shocking during our recent interview:

Stephanie Joyce

Wind power is a growing part of the energy mix in the United States. And along with that growth, there are new job opportunities for people to install and repair the 30-story-tall wind turbines. But as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, a unique skill set is required -- the fearlessness of a pro rock climber along with the know-how of a skilled mechanic.

INSIDE ENERGY: Millions Of Tons Oil And Gas Waste: Hazardous Or Not?

Oct 3, 2014
David Martin Davies

The United States is on the verge of becoming the world’s top producer of oil – that’s according to the International Energy Agency.  But the oil boom is also leading to a boom in toxic oil field waste that can end up in open pit disposal sites.  There are increasing concerns over the dangers these disposal sites pose for air quality.

Despite a record crop of corn in the Midwest this summer, there shouldn't be propane shortages this winter, according to industry observers.

Propane is used to dry out the corn crop, to prevent mold, among other things. Last year there was also a record crop of corn AND it was very wet, so harvesters used more propane than usual. Then, an especially harsh winter on the east coast increased demand for propane before the supply could rebound. That resulted in propane price spikes.

Leigh Paterson

Four companies, including Wyoming-based Pathfinder Wind Energy, announced an eight billion dollar project this week that would eventually send Wyoming wind power to California. If built, the wind farm would be one of the largest in the country. 

Leigh Paterson

Liquefied natural gas has long been used to power vehicles like buses and garbage trucks. But this week, one of America's largest coal companies, Alpha Natural Resources, announced a plan to build an LNG plant right next to a Gillette-area mine. That LNG will then be used to power the mine's massive coal haul trucks. 

Stephanie Joyce

The red smokestacks of the Comanche power plant outside of Pueblo, Colorado can be seen from miles away. The plant supplies power to communities along the Front Range, including Denver, and consumes hundreds of tons of coal an hour in the process. That coal arrives in mile-long trains from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin and is stockpiled at the plant. Normally, that pile would be a hundred feet tall, according to Xcel Energy fuel supply manager Craig Romer. But right now, it’s less than a third of that.

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On Tuesday, Wyoming’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission got its first glimpse at a rule that would increase the buffer between houses and drilling. They postponed any final action on the so-called setback rule until next month, but there was plenty of discussion. Ben Storrow of the Casper Star-Tribune covered the Commission’s meeting and joined Wyoming Public Radio’s energy reporter, Stephanie Joyce, to talk about it.

Glenrock residents are invited to attend a forum next week that will address the impacts of the oil and gas industry on landowners. The two key speakers for the event will be a private property attorney and a Wyoming resident who was evacuated from her land because of an oil blowout. They will discuss the development of the oil industry around Glenrock, as well as risks to nearby landowners such as emissions, spills, evacuations, and the devaluing of property in the area.

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The Port of Vancouver approved plans Thursday to build a nearly $14 million-dollar terminal to ship coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to Asian markets.

The decision came just days after state regulators in Oregon rejected a proposal for such a terminal amid opposition from fisherman and environmentalists.

Coal producers in the Powder River Basin have been looking to sell more coal to Asia, but these ambitions have been restricted by limited port capacity on the West Coast.

Leigh Paterson

In the last few years, the United States has undergone a radical transformation, from energy importer to energy exporter. Liquified natural gas terminals that were built to process natural gas from abroad are being converted for export. The first tanker full of unrefined US crude oil to leave our shores in decade set sail from Texas late last month. Coal companies are increasingly relying on foreign markets to pad their balance sheets. Wyoming Public Radio held a forum recently to discuss how increased foreign exports could affect the state.

The state Industrial Siting Commission gave the Power Company of Wyoming its blessing Wednesday to move ahead with plans to build the largest on-shore wind farm in the United States.

A thousand wind turbines would be erected in Carbon County if the Chokecherry-Sierra Madre wind farm is built, covering about 2,000 acres of private and public lands. The turbines would produce enough power for a million homes.

But Kara Choquette, with the Power Company of Wyoming, said none of that power will be used in the state.

Energy Information Administration

According to a recent analysis by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, mining occupied approximately 35 percent of Wyoming’s GDP in 2013, up from around 29 percent in 2003. That makes Wyoming the most mining-dependent state in the country.

The increase comes despite calls from the Wyoming Business Council to diversify the state’s industries.

Wyoming Principal Economist Jim Robinson said that after concentrating on energy for so long, growth in areas outside energy is slow.

The Western Energy Alliance released a report this week on sage grouse protection measures used by the oil and gas industry. Though the report claims that the industry is doing enough to protect grouse, a local conservationist disagrees.

Erik Molvar is a biologist and campaign director with WildEarth Guardians. He says that the Bureau of Land Management’s own research disputes the WEA findings.

Jeremy Buckingham via Flickr

A Wyoming program that incentivizes businesses’ use of green energy has won a national innovation award.

The Wyoming Renewable Energy Credit program was named the 2014 Economic Development Award Recipient by Business Facilities Magazine, a national publication on business expansion.

The initiative is a partnership between the Powder River Energy Corporation and the Wyoming Business Council. It offers a discount on energy costs for Wyoming businesses interested in using green power.

This week’s Supreme Court ruling on the EPA and its ability to regulate carbon is a mixed bag for Wyoming officials and energy producers. It sets the stakes even higher for Republicans in the state who are determined to derail a pending EPA rule on climate change.  

Like most all things here in Washington these days, the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of the EPA is being read along party lines. But Wyoming Senator Mike Enzi says it’s not just partisanship. He says your opinion also hinges on where you’re reading.

As energy development increases across the country many states are starting to look into whether or not it would be a good idea to set up data bases to track possible health impacts directly attributed to energy development.  Colorado has developed an extensive system within its Department of Health to track and investigate health care impacts.  The State of Wyoming has not developed such a data base. Doctor Tracy Murphy is the state epidemiologist. He says the Department of Health rare fields calls of that nature.

Grace Hood / KUNC

The transport of crude oil by rail has spiked dramatically in recent years. From 2012 to 2013 the amount carried by the country's major freight railroads increased nearly 75 percent, according to the American Association of Railroads.  Even though crude oil accounted for just over 1 percent of overall rail traffic last year, there's growing public concern about the potential oil spills and other hazards.

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It didn't take long after the Obama administration unveiled new rules this week regulating carbon emissions from power plants for people to start naming winners and losers. Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-producing state, and a huge coal consumer, was immediately billed as a loser.

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The Obama administration said Monday that it intends to aggressively reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, or greenhouse gas pollution, produced in the United States. To boost these ambitions, the White House will partner with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to enforce varying rules state-by-state to be carried out by power plants that produce the gases.

If successfully implemented, the regulations will deliver a 30 percent decrease in carbon emissions by 2030.

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The predicted effects of continuing to pump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at current rates range from dramatic sea level rise to extreme weather to famine and drought. Power plants are among the largest carbon dioxide emitters, and on June 2, the Obama administration is scheduled to release new rules regulating those emissions. Utilities and trade groups are already warning those rules will have some dire consequences of their own.

The Obama administration wants states to cutback on carbon emissions, but doing that has always been a thorny problem. While carbon is a byproduct of almost everything we do, capturing and storing it is expensive. For years, the goal has been to figure out how to make that process cheaper, but more recent efforts take a different approach, with the focus shifting from storing carbon to using it.

On a recent spring morning, Karen Wawrousek led a tour of her lab at the Western Research Institute, on the outskirts of Laramie.

Stephanie Joyce

New regulations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants are due out at the beginning of next month and industry is warning that they could have a devastating impact on the economy.
 
Speaking at the Wyoming Business Report’s Energy Summit in Casper, Dan Byers, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the cost of the regulations will likely significantly outweigh the climate benefits, pointing out that developing nations are emitting more than ever. Byers says he’s skeptical of how the Environmental Protection Agency will calculate cost-benefit.
 

A report says that Wyoming is well positioned to be a leader in the liquefied natural gas industry or LNG for what are called high horsepower industries.   

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