Powder River Basin Resource Council

Panel at the "Future of Solar" event with Cheyenne Representative Dan Zwonitzer on the left
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

Legislators, businesspeople, and residents came together in Laramie Wednesday to discuss the future of solar energy in Wyoming. The event was organized by the Powder River Basin Resource Council and the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

Amount of Financial Assurances Held in 2017, by Type, for Reclaiming Coal Mines in States and on Indian Tribal Lands with Active Coal Mining
U.S. Government Accountability Office

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is recommending Congress eliminate self-bonding. It's a method used by coal companies to guarantee clean-up costs without putting money down.

The problems with self-bonding were highlighted when several of the nation’s largest coal companies went bankrupt in 2015 and 2016. The huge bill leftover for clean-up costs nearly fell on taxpayer shoulders. Wyoming has been looking to reform the practice since 2013, with a more concrete proposal released in 2017.

Sheridan County meeting to discuss rezoning
Robin Bagley / Powder River Basin Resource Council

Sheridan County Commissioners voted three to two in favor of rezoning 114 acres of land from agricultural to industrial. It’s the first regulatory step for Ramaco Wyoming Coal Company LLC, which owns the land, to eventually develop there. 

POWDER RIVER BASIN RESOURCE COUNCIL

Mineral extraction companies owe Wyoming counties more than $42 million in back taxes, fees, and penalties, according to a new report from the Powder River Basin Resource Council. The publication looked at 12 counties in Wyoming from 2006 to 2016.

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.

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.

POWDER RIVER BASIN RESOURCE COUNCIL

Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality has denied a proposal for a new coal mine to be built near Sheridan… for the time being. Ramaco’s proposed Brook Mine has been embroiled in controversy for the last year over what many saw as an insufficient permit application. The Environmental Quality Council, or E.Q.C., an independent board, identified deficiencies in hydrology, a blasting plan, and land subsidence, or sinking, among others.

POWDER RIVER BASIN RESOURCE COUNCIL

The Environmental Quality Council, or EQC, will not accept a permit for the proposed Brook Mine. The independent review board is made up of five council members. In a four to one vote, the EQC decided the permit application was incomplete.

The council brought up several deficiencies with the permit application including lack of information on subsidence, the costs of land reclamation, and effects on hydrology. All members agreed Brook Mine LLC should have held sessions for public input before it submitted a permit application. 

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.

POWDER RIVER BASIN RESOURCE COUNCIL

The Powder River Basin Resource Council is taking issue with a proposed tax break to the uranium industry. Industry representatives say the cuts are necessary to help boost production and pricing. Opponents say the strategy has been tried twice without success.

In a report, the Wyoming Mining Association wrote the industry is facing near historically low prices and has had to lay off employees. Prices have dropped about 85% since 2007. 

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.

CocoaBiscuit via Flickr

Congress canceled a set of coal mining regulations last week, just two months after they’d been passed. President Trump signed the repeal with support from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead.  

The Stream Protection Rule created a buffer zone around waterways and placed stricter requirements on companies to monitor and reclaim mine sites. But Wyoming’s Congressional delegation and Department of Environmental Quality called the decision an overreach that should not apply to the arid conditions of the Western U.S.

Joshua Doubek / Wikimedia Commons

The Environmental Protection Agency has reversed a previous finding that fracking did not cause “widespread, systemic” harm to drinking water in the United States. In its final report on the issue, the EPA said under certain circumstances hydraulic fracturing poses a risk to drinking water resources.

But because of what the agency calls “data gaps,” it was unable to make a definitive statement on just how risky fracking is.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

New rules from the Department of the Interior aim to close what many have called a loophole in how federal coal resources are valued.

Most of the coal mined in Wyoming is owned by the federal government. Companies pay royalties for the right to mine that coal—in theory, 12.5 percent of the sale price.

Stephanie Joyce

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality says it will not meet with a landowners group that is concerned about Alpha Natural Resources' request to renew one of its mining permits.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council objected to Alpha’s application to renew its permit for the Eagle Butte mine near Gillette. The group says the permit cannot be renewed under state law because Alpha doesn’t have required reclamation bonding to cover clean-up costs. Under federal law, anyone with an objection to a mining permit is entitled to some sort of hearing.

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 Environmental Quality logo
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Wyoming’s Industrial Siting Council dealt a potentially fatal blow to the Two Elk power plant Monday when it decided not to extend the deadline for the company to begin construction on the project.

The power plant was originally proposed in 1997 to burn “waste" coal from nearby mines. The project developer, North American Power Group, has had its permit extended half a dozen times since then, but almost nothing has been built at the site. By not extending the deadline again, the Council rendered that permit invalid.

CREDIT STEPHANIE JOYCE / WPM

Wyoming residents are raising concerns about crude oil transport in the state. Last week, the Powder River Basin Resource Council and residents who live near train tracks testified before the Joint Transportation, Highways, and Military Affairs Committee

Megan Taylor with the Powder River Basin Resource Council says improving safety for crude-by-rail is particularly pressing for Wyoming residents.

Bureau of Land Management Logo
Bureau of Land Management

A public protest period is now open for a new resource management plan put forth by the Bureau of Land Management for the Powder River Basin area.

The plan would authorize 10 billion tons of coal production, as well as oil and gas development.

Powder River Basin Resource Council Chair Gillian Malone says the council had hoped there might be limits on energy production.

"Well we would hope that there would be a lot more room to protect Greater Sage Grouse for one thing in the Powder River Basin and they did virtually nothing," says Malone.

Conservation groups are expressing huge concern over the proposed Bureau of Land Management proposed resource management plan for the Powder River Basin.  

The plan authorizes 10 billion tons of coal production along with oil and gas development. With concern being expressed over Sage Grouse habitat, some conservation groups thought the BLM would proposed reduced energy development.

BLM Director Neil Kornze said last week during a trip to Cheyenne that Sage Grouse will be monitored and that the declining coal market will take care of a lot of the carbon dioxide concerns.

Stephanie Joyce

People packed into a public hearing Monday about proposed changes to the rules governing how far oil and gas drilling has to be from homes and schools. The Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is proposing to increase the "setback" distance from 350 feet to 500 feet. 

But Chuck White, who lives east of Cheyenne, told the Commission that 500 feet simply isn’t far enough for modern drilling operations.

Stephanie Joyce

A coalition of environmental and landowner groups have reached a settlement with the State of Wyoming and Halliburton in a lawsuit over fracking chemical disclosure.

Wyoming was the first state in the nation to require public disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or fracking, but the state has also granted more than a hundred exemptions to that rule to companies concerned that disclosure would reveal trade secrets.

Wikimedia Commons

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

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has proposed increasing the buffer, or “setback,” between oil and gas wells and places like schools, hospitals and homes.

The current setback distance is 350 feet. Under the proposal that would increase to 500 feet. Companies would also have to comply with a new requirement to notify people living within 1000 feet of a well of any planned drilling activity and come up with a plan to mitigate potential impacts.

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.”  

Roger Wollstadt

The Powder River Basin Resource Council's Bill Bensel says without a USDA meat plant in Wyoming local meats can’t get to state schools and stores. However, the Wyoming Department of Agriculture's Derek Grant says that’s not true.

“Our producers can take their livestock to those meat plants and then sell the products in the state of Wyoming to restaurants and school and individuals.”

Bensel says the problem is that there are too few slaughtering plants—only 12 state wide—to make it economically feasible for ranchers to process in-state.

Melodie Edwards

It's not just in big cities that people are buying up kale and bison jerky. Rural Wyomingites are trolling farmer's markets for purple tomatoes and emu oil, too. The state now has 49 farmer’s markets that have done over two million dollars in revenue just this year. But some farmers and food advocates who want to expand the availability of artisan foods say Wyoming is struggling with some deep challenges. 

In his pumpkin patch, eleven-year-old Michael Shaw pokes around under broad, drooping leaves. He’s not sure of any of the names because he lost his seed map.

Melodie Edwards

Last week, Sheridan County commissioners approved an amendment to planning and zoning rules that will give local farmers an edge on more direct sales to their customers. It will now be easier for them to put up farm stands and greenhouses on their property, as well as sell jams, salsas and other products made from their produce. Such activities either weren't allowed or required special permits in the past. Director Bill Benzel with Powder River Resource Council worked on the amendment.

Stephanie Joyce

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will get its first look at a draft rule for oil and gas well setbacks next week.

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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