oil and gas

Stephanie Joyce

The Legislature's Joint Minerals Committee will consider a proposal at its meeting this week to create a state-backed insurance pool that small oil and gas operators could tap into for their cleanup obligations.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

  

Chris Goodwin's pitch opens with the same question every time: “Are you a Colorado voter?”

He has been wandering the streets of Boulder, asking that question over and over. Many people say no or ignore him  until he brings up the f-word: fracking.

Stephanie Joyce

Officials have identified the oil and gas worker who died at a well site near Midwest, Wyoming Thursday as 28-year-old Dennis McColloch, of Casper. According to the Natrona County sheriff’s department, McColloch fell from approximately 80 feet while working on the rig.

The county coroner says he appears to have died instantly. Initial reports that McColloch had been crushed by falling equipment were inaccurate.

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

A U.S. District Court judge in Wyoming has struck down a rule that would have governed fracking on federal lands.

Judge Scott Skavdahl concluded in his ruling that the Department of the Interior does not have the authority to regulate fracking and called the attempt to do so an “end-run” around the 2005 Energy Policy Act. That law explicitly exempted fracking from regulation by another arm of the executive branch—the Environmental Protection Agency.

Mysterious Gas Leak In A Town Surrounded By Wells

Jun 14, 2016
Leigh Paterson

The search is continuing for the source of a gas leak that shut down a school in Midwest, Wyoming at the end of May.

Fleur de Lis, the company that operates the neighboring Salt Creek oil field, says it has plugged one leaking well near the school, worked on another six and is continuing to monitor as many as 30 other wells in the area. 

The Salt Creek field is the oldest in Wyoming, and an Inside Energy analysis of the state oil and gas database shows there are more than 700 active and abandoned wells in a one-mile radius around the Midwest school.

An energy company has not yet found the source of a gas-like odor that shut down a school near its oil field in Natrona County.

Students and staff at Midwest School first smelled what they thought was natural gas last Wednesday. The school was closed on Thursday. Fleur De Lis Energy, which runs the nearby Salt Creek oil field, says employees have been working around the clock trying to find the source of the smell since.

statemuseum.nd.gov

  

It’s hard not to notice the influence of the oil and coal industries at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck. Inside the Continental Resources-sponsored Inspiration Gallery you can learn about coal reclamation, touch the Bakken shale, and guess which everyday products are made of petroleum. You can buy oil-themed chocolate at the gift store. Fossil fuel companies are some of the largest donors to this museum, which reopened in 2014 after a $52 million expansion and renovation.

Taylor Brorby and Ice Cube Press

Fracking: the technique for boosting oil and gas production has been around for decades, but chances are you didn’t hear about it until recently. In just a few short years, the fracking boom has transformed communities across the country… and elicited plenty of emotions from all sides. Fracture is a new book of essays, poems and short fiction on the topic of fracking.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced a new rule this week that aims to better protect workers from something called silica dust. It replaces standards that were more than 40 years old.

Silica is found in materials like sand, granite, and concrete. Breathing in too much of the dust that results from working with these materials can cause a lung disease called Silicosis and lung cancer.

The Department of Labor estimates that around 2.3 million workers like sandblasters and brick makers are exposed to silica at work.

SCOTT DETROW / STATEIMPACT PENNSYLVANIA

  

The U.S. oil and gas industry was shocked on Wednesday by the sudden death of one of its most influential executives. Aubrey McClendon was killed after driving his SUV into a concrete embankment, a day after being indicted on bid rigging and price fixing charges. He was the former CEO of Chesapeake Energy, a major producer now floundering under low oil and gas prices.

Emily Guerin

Dustin Bergsing was a young, fit, bull rider from Montana. On a cold night in January 2012, he climbed to the catwalk on top of a 20 foot tall crude oil storage tank on an oil well pad in North Dakota’s Bakken oilfield. His job was to pop open the small hatch on top and drop a rope inside to measure the level of oil.

Just after midnight, he was found dead by a co-worker, slumped on the catwalk.

Dan Boyce

Bruce Friest asks himself if he would have done it again, knowing what he knows now – move from Minnesota to start a small trucking company during the peak of North Dakota’s oil boom.

“I don’t know if I would, I really don’t,” he said. “It was hard on me, it was hard on my kids, I was married and my marriage fell apart.”

A couple of years ago, his trucks were sub-contracted to haul oil by a larger trucking company. Then that company, Montana Midwest, went bankrupt, still owing Friest more than $200,000.

With Industry In Turmoil, Energy Players Meet In Houston

Feb 26, 2016
IHS Energy/CERAWeek

  

The energy industry is in turmoil. Coal and oil prices are way down, there are big changes to environmental regulations in the works, and more and more renewables are coming online. Some of the biggest players in the industry met at a conference in Houston this week to weigh in on what it all means. Inside Energy reporter Jordan Wirfs-Brock was at IHS CERAWeek. She spoke to Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce from the conference about the biggest issues on the table for the energy industry.  

TRANSCRIPT:

Earthworks

The oil and gas industry may be emitting more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than previously thought, according to new estimates from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Methane can leak from wells, pipelines and compressor stations, among other things.

At an energy conference in Houston, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said the administration is not planning to turn a blind eye to the oil and gas industry's increased contributions.

"The data confirm that we can and must do more on methane reductions in the oil and gas sector," she said. 

In a $1.9 billion deal, Black Hills Energy has purchased SourceGas, expanding the company's utility operations in Wyoming. The companies agreed to the sale last summer, but were waiting on regulatory approval. Shirley Welte is the new vice president of operations for Black Hills Energy in Wyoming. She says the merger was a logical business move.

"The combination fits our overall strategy to create value for our customers and shareholders by growing our business," says Welte.

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has finalized new rules governing the flaring and venting of natural gas from oil wells.

Natural gas is a byproduct of drilling for oil, but when there aren't pipelines or processing facilities nearby to collect the gas, companies sometimes end up burning it off.

The new rules formalize requirements for operators to submit reports so that the state can keep track of how much gas is being flared.

Stephanie Joyce

It came as news to Jeff Parsek that state records show there is an abandoned oil and gas well in his driveway. Parsek lives in a large, brown ranch house, right across the street from an elementary school, in a subdivision on the south side of Fort Collins, Colorado. It’s a nice neighborhood, with the new feeling of many Colorado suburbs.

When Parsek bought the house in 2004, he didn’t ask about oil and gas wells on the property.

With energy prices in a slump, oil and gas employment in Wyoming was down 30% in December from the same time in 2014, to just under 13,000 jobs. Economist David Bullard says oil prices have nose dived over the last year.

“So it's not surprising to see job loss in oil and gas here in Wyoming," Bullard says.

Oil prices are currently hovering around $30 a barrel. 

Stephanie Joyce

Companies are shutting down pipelines in the Midwest in response to record flooding.

There are dozens of oil and gas pipelines running under the Mississippi River. Several companies have proactively shut down those lines, in order to avoid accidents.

Spectra Energy has shut down its Platte pipeline, which runs from Guernsey, Wyoming to Wood River Illinois.
"Obviously there will be some delays in deliveries," said Spectra spokesman Devon Hotzel. "But any December volumes that were affected by the shutdown will be delivered in January."

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has concluded groundwater contamination in the Pavillion area is unlikely to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Media

Going forward, oil and gas companies in Wyoming will need to pay more upfront to cover the potential costs of clean-up down the road.

Companies have to post a bond before they begin drilling to ensure compliance with regulations and to cover the costs of clean-up if they go bankrupt or abandon their wells. The bonds are returned once wells are properly reclaimed.

Currently, Wyoming requires a bond of $75,000 to cover all of a company’s wells in the state, although many companies were grandfathered in under a previous $25,000 requirement.

Geof Wilson / Flickr

The likelihood of rising oil prices dimmed after OPEC declined to put a cap on production at its latest meeting in Vienna on Friday.

 

Oil prices fell below $40 a barrel on the news that OPEC couldn’t come to an agreement on a production cap. Led by Saudi Arabia, the oil cartel has declined to cut production in the last year, even in a market flooded with oil. The strategy is intended to squeeze out higher-cost competitors, like U.S. shale producers. And it appears to be working.

 

Willow Belden

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing changes to its rules for burning or “flaring” natural gas. 

Natural gas is a byproduct of drilling for oil, but when there aren't nearby pipelines or processing facilities to take the gas, companies often burn it for a period of time.

Environmental groups say flaring wastes a valuable, non-renewable resource and creates air quality problems for nearby residents.

Andrew Cullen

Some of the best places in America to see the starry night sky also happen to the best places to drill for oil. Think western North Dakota or West Texas, places far from any major cities. As oil development exploded in recent years, so has the amount of light pollution.

On a recent fall weekend, volunteer and astronomy-buff Jay Bjerke was manning a massive telescope at Theodore Roosevelt National Park's Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival.

Dan Boyce / Inside Energy

A federal judge in Wyoming has temporarily blocked implementation of new rules governing fracking on federal lands.

The new rules would require the disclosure of fracking chemicals and more mechanical integrity testing for wells, among other things. But U.S. District Court judge Scott Skavdahl argues in the injunction that federal agencies cannot regulate fracking.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

Driving around the Powder River Basin in northeast Wyoming with Jeff Gillum and Jeff Campbell is like playing an extended game of “Where’s Waldo?”

Where most people would see a yard full of heavy machinery or an unassuming patch of prairie, Campbell and Gillum are constantly spotting coal bed methane wells. They point out the signature tan well houses everywhere as we drive around Gillette: in people’s front yards, in a storage company’s parking lot, even at the end of the driving range at the golf course.

Wyoming Department of Workforce Services

Wyoming saw a large year-over-year increase in worker deaths in 2014. Thirty-seven workers died on the job last year, according to newly released data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s up from 26 in 2013, and is also higher than the three-year average.

The numbers are preliminary, so the Bureau did not calculate fatality rates that could be used to compare Wyoming to other states.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

As the list of orphaned wells in Wyoming continues to grow, state regulators are looking to strengthen oil and gas bonding requirements.

Oil and gas companies are required to post bonds before they begin drilling, in order to ensure compliance with regulations during drilling and cleanup. But current bonding requirements have been criticized for failing to discourage abandonment, and for not being sufficient to cover the costs of plugging orphaned wells.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

With oil hovering around $45 a barrel these days, oil workers can go from making a six-figure salary, including overtime, to being unemployed and broke. When business is good, a $60,000 dollar truck, for example, might be a reasonable purchase and maybe even a business expense. But the oil industry isn’t like most businesses. Work can go away overnight.

Wyoming Workforce Services

Wyoming saw a spike in workplace fatalities in 2014. Thirty-four people died on the job last year, up from 21 in 2013, according to a new report from the state.

 

Transportation-related accidents accounted for almost half of the deaths, and also for the largest increase.

 

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