If you live right next to a drilling rig, or your kids go to school beside a fracking site, or your county is suddenly littered with well pads -- are there health risks? That’s a question that’s been asked from Pennsylvania to North Dakota, from Colorado to Texas as more and more people find themselves and their towns in the midst of an unprecedented energy boom.
State investigators have ruled out inadequate maintenance as the cause of an explosion at a natural gas plant in southwestern Wyoming in April, but are still looking into what did happen. The explosion at the Williams Company gas plant forced evacuation of the nearby town of Opal.
John Ysebart heads up Wyoming’s Office of Occupational Safety and Health. He says the state sent two investigators to look into the incident, and so did the U.S. Chemical Safety Board. Ysebart says that agency doesn’t normally get involved.
Energy reporter Stephanie Joyce talks with Speaker of the House, Tom Lubnau, Shawn Reese, head of the Wyoming Business Council, and Roger Coupal who’s an economist at the University of Wyoming during the forum on coal and foreign exports.
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.
There’s no link between gas wells and groundwater contamination near Pavillion, according to a draft study out Wednesday from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. It’s the first of three reports looking into what caused the contamination, which some blame on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The reviewers looked at the gas wells themselves to determine if they were leaking or otherwise damaged.
In the first quarter of 2014, the United States surpassed both Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil producer. It already hit that mark for natural gas late last year. All of that oil and gas has to be transported from the fields where it’s drilled to refineries and processing plants, and most of that is done by pipeline, but the nation’s pipeline infrastructure isn’t currently up to the task.
The Williams company is working to get its natural gas processing plant in Opal back up and running after an explosion and fire shut it down last week. The fire burned for five days, finally running out of fuel on Monday afternoon. In a press release, the company said it believes only one of the plant’s four units was damaged in the accident. Two of the units were back online Thursday morning.
A town in southwest Wyoming has been evacuated after an explosion at a nearby natural gas processing plant. The explosion at the Williams plant near Opal happened around 2 p.m. Wednesday afternoon. Lincoln County Emergency Management spokesman Stephen Malik said that as of 4 p.m. there was still an ongoing fire, but that gas has been shut off to the facility. In addition to the evacuation of Opal's hundred residents, highways 30 and 284 between Opal and Kemmerer have been shut down.
Recently released data compiled by the federal government shows oil production on federal lands is up from last year, while natural gas production is down. Overall, the energy sector is booming, but industry analysts say companies are shifting from natural gas to wetter plays because of low natural gas prices. But even though production is up, some industry groups point out that it's increasing more quickly on private lands and blame the trend on slow permitting by the federal government.
In the latest sign of an industry-wide move away from natural gas, Encana is selling its Jonah Field properties. For more than a decade, Encana has been one of the largest natural gas producers in Wyoming thanks to the field near Pinedale, but company spokesperson Doug Hock says moving forward, Encana is trying to diversify its assets.
“So that we’re not tied to one particular commodity. Or we’ve got more flexibility in terms of oil versus natural gas,” Hock says.
Lawmakers in Washington are debating whether to export more natural gas to combat Russian threats to cut off its gas supplies to Europe. Our D-C reporter Matt Laslo has a look at what that could mean for Wyoming’s economy – and environment.
U.S. Senators John Barrasso and Mike Enzi have introduced a bill to reduce permitting timelines for natural gas pipelines on federal and Indian lands.
Barrasso says the Natural Gas Gathering Enhancement Act will help reduce flaring of natural gas at well sites not currently connected to pipelines. He notes that North Dakota, Texas, and Wyoming flare a lot of natural gas because well sites often are not connected to pipelines
Natural gas prices hit a 5-year high this week in response to news that another bout of extreme cold weather will hit the Northeast and Midwest in coming days. Previous cold snaps this winter have led to record consumption of natural gas, which in turn has drawn down reserves. In response, prices have climbed more than 40 percent since the beginning of the year, reaching over $6 per million BTU Wednesday.
Doug Hock is a spokesman for Encana, the largest natural producer in Wyoming. He says the upswing is a welcome change of pace, after years of low prices.
Governor Matt Mead and other elected officials made the case during a Jackson forum Wednesday that Wyoming's future depends on energy. They said that tapping state's energy resources, from coal to natural gas, is what pays the bills when it comes to building schools and other vital infrastructure.
But the governor said that doesn't mean producing energy should come at the cost of the environment. And that impressed Paul Hansen, who moderated the forum.
Teton County drivers will soon be able to buy compressed natural gas at a filling station in Jackson. The State Loan and Investment Board granted $766,000 towards the purchase of equipment for the project.
The U.S. is inching into the number one spot for oil and gas production worldwide and natural gas advocates want President Obama to highlight the trend during Tuesday’s State of the Union address. The abundance of natural gas is due to technological advances - which unlocked previously inaccessible reserves - and low natural gas prices have made the energy source very competitive.
Dan Whitten, with America’s Natural Gas Alliance, says even if prices for natural gas go up the resource will still be able to compete with Wyoming’s coal.
Governor Matt Mead is committing $400,000 dollars for water delivery to households with cisterns in the Pavillion area. Residents have long complained of unusable well water, which some blame on nearby natural gas development. The money is part of a grant from Encana Oil and Gas, which operates in the Pavillion gas field.
19 cisterns are currently being installed, with another 13 households signed up.
The Governor’s Natural Resources Policy Advisor, Jerimiah Rieman, says residents will meet later this week to discuss how to use the money.
Despite recording more than 500 spills, the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission levied no fines for unauthorized releases in 2013.
Natural resources program supervisor Tom Kropatsch says that figure includes all releases -- whether of oil, natural gas, produced water or drilling mud.
“In 2010 we actually reduced the volume requirements on reportable spills to us. So, we see a lot more, as far as numbers of spills now than we did several years ago, just because we changed the requirement on volume.”
A Christmas Day fire at a natural gas compressor station south of Riverton sent one worker to the hospital.
The East Alkali Butte station belongs to Texas-based Legacy Reserves. The company’s safety coordinator, Randy Williams, says the injured worker was a contractor. He was flown to a hospital in Salt Lake City for treatment.
Fremont County Fire Protection deputy chief Dan Oakley says by the time the department got on scene, the fire had been mostly extinguished. He says the building was still standing, but that the windows and doors had been blown out.
Frustrated landowners in Converse County sat down last week with a company that’s proposing to build a natural gas processing facility outside of Douglas to discuss alternative locations for the plant.
Crestwood Midstream Access’ plant would be situated in a largely agricultural area, and nearby ranchers have protested, saying it would be better to group it with existing industrial development.
But there are no land use regulations in Converse County, so rancher Art Nicholas proposed a trade: a parcel of his land south of the city in exchange for the site.
Bankrupt methane farming company Luca Technologies is planning to walk away from its wells on federal lands in Wyoming without plugging them. The company and its subsidiaries have between four and five hundred wells on federal lands, and COO Brian Cree says it's unlikely there will be enough money to clean them up.
“Those wells will just be turned back over to the federal government, and the federal government will be in a position to use their resources to plug and abandon those wells," Cree says.
Current regulations are inadequate for monitoring and controlling oil and gas development, according to a new report from a coalition of western resource councils. In particular, the report focuses on the potential problems surrounding treatment and disposal of produced water, the contaminated water that's pulled up along with oil in the drilling process.
Amid a slew of disappointing quarterly financial results from Powder River Basin coal companies, some groups are raising questions about the commodity’s long-term viability.
The Boulder-based environmental group Clean Energy Action released a report Wednesday that predicts the country has already passed “peak coal” and that production will continue to decline because of rising costs. They include Powder River Basin coal in that prediction, even though it has the lowest production costs in the country.
A legislative committee killed a bill Tuesday that would have taxed natural gas flaring from oil wells.
When there isn’t pipeline or processing infrastructure available to move the natural gas, companies simply burn it. The draft bill would have required severance tax payments on gas flared more than 180 days after the well starts producing. Representative Michael Madden, one of two supporters of the bill, said the proposal wasn’t a tax increase, but rather the repeal of an exemption.
Douglas residents are concerned about emissions from a proposed natural gas processing plant on the outskirts of town. Texas-based Crestwood Midstream Partners’ Douglas facility would process 120 million cubic feet of raw natural gas per day. Residents wrote to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, worried about carbon dioxide and formaldehyde emissions, among other things.
Cole Anderson is in charge of Wyoming’s air quality permitting process. He says the DEQ has reviewed the company’s proposed emissions, and found them to meet state standards.
There are fewer companies flaring off natural gas today than there were six months ago. In March, the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission had 65 flaring authorizations. Members of the Legislatures Minerals Committee were told by Commission Supervisor Grant Black that now there is about half that number. He also said that companies generally request flaring permits when a compressor is down or there is no pipeline to get the gas to market and they’re seeing much less of the latter.
The US Environmental Protection Agency has released a set of rules that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from coal and natural gas power plants. If finalized, the rules would be the first to set such a national standard. The rule caps carbon emissions from natural gas power plants at 1,000 pounds/megawatt hour and from coal power plants at 1,100 pounds.
More than 500 industry people gathered in Jackson this week for the 17th Annual Wyoming Oil and Gas Fair. Wyoming Public Radio’s energy and natural resources reporter, Stephanie Joyce was there, and she joins us now to talk about the event.
BOB BECK: So, what are the biggest issues on the mind of Wyoming’s oil and gas industry right now?
Natural gas’ reputation as a climate-friendly alternative to coal has been tarnished recently by concerns that methane—a potent greenhouse gas—is leaking in copious quantities as the fuel makes its way from the ground to the consumer. A study released Monday provides the first on-the-ground measurements of methane leaks at hydraulically fractured natural gas well sites, and they're not as bad as some had feared.