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State Expects Feds To OK EV Plan. Critic: “Wyoming Is Poster Child For Where EVs Don’t Work”

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By Kevin Killough, State Energy Reporter
kevin@cowboystatedaily.com

Wyoming is charging up for federal approval of its electric vehicle (EV) plan, which it expects to come next week. 

Once approved, Wyoming can tap into federal money to build charging stations along interstates and highways. 

Wyoming didn’t make the list of 35 states in the recent first round of plan approvals, but once the feds give Wyoming’s plan a thumbs up the state will receive $3.9 million in fiscal year 2022 and about $5 million annually for the next four years. 

The program provides 80% of the costs of building new EV charging stations, with the other 20% coming from the private operator. 

The state isn’t putting up any money to build out a network of charging stations. 

EV Envy

For EV enthusiasts, the stations will open Wyoming to more electrified road trips. 

Wild West EV develops revenue-share agreements with property owners to build and operate charging stations throughout Wyoming. The company now has stations in Lander, Riverton, Hudson, Dubois and Cody. 

Wild West EV owner Patrick Lawson said he’s excited about the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure (NEVI) program, and the company is searching for partners to develop proposals to submit when the state sends out requests for them. 

“We’re definitely going to submit,” Lawson said. 

Lawson said his entire family uses electric transportation. His wife drives a Tesla Model X, he drives a Rivian truck and his son drives a Nissan Leaf. He said it’s no problem getting around the highways in his Rivian. 

“I can get from Riverton to Denver without even charging,” Lawson said. 

It wasn’t always that easy with the first EV models he bought in 2013. On long trips, he would stay in RV parks so he could plug his car in. Now that EVs have longer ranges and improved charging features — in addition to more charging stations available — it’s getting easier to take his vehicles on the open road, Lawson said. 

The feds are pushing for charging stations every 50 miles. With some stretches between Wyoming towns farther apart that that, the state isn’t likely to meet that goal with its NEVI program. 

Lawson said that with EVs going 200 to 400 miles on a charge, EV drivers traveling through and around Wyoming will get by. 

Car Sense

Wyoming’s per capita EV ownership is among the lowest in the United States. 

Data from the Wyoming Department of Transportation shows that 456 electric cars are registered in the Cowboy State. More than a third of those are in Teton County and about a quarter in Laramie County.

Vince Bodiford, owner of the auto enthusiast website The Weekend Drive, said the EV fad is entirely an impractical result of “green politics.” 

“Wyoming is almost the poster child for where electric vehicles don’t work and don’t make sense,” Bodiford said.

Unlike gas-powered vehicles, Bodiford said EVs are their least efficient at high speeds. In a large city where trips are short, at low speeds and with lots of stopping time, EVs work pretty well. But that’s really not the driving experience for most Wyomingites. 

“From a physics point of view, it’s stupid,” Bodiford said.

He said when you look at the transportation and hauling needs of ranchers, EVs just don’t have a place.

But, that won’t stop the momentum of the EV movement, he said referencing earlier shifts in American history.

At the start of World War II, America’s automotive manufacturers diverted all their energy to the wartime effort in less than two weeks. 

“When Detroit or the auto industry puts their mind to making a big industrial shift, it’s going to happen big and fast,” Bodiford said. 

Driven by government mandates, the industrial capacity of America’s automobile manufacturers “is way faster than what consumers are ready to accept,” Bodiford said.

Tourism

When it comes to the NEVI program, Bodiford said the state should pursue it. Although Wyoming drivers aren’t going to find EVs practical, he said drivers coming to Wyoming like their electric cars. The state’s tourism industry will greatly benefit if Wyoming’s highways are more EV friendly. 

“Anytime there’s an offer for more infrastructure … I’m all for it,” he said. “Do it.” 

Aaron Turpen, an automotive writer and supporter of electric vehicles, said besides the benefit to tourism, rental agencies and rideshare company Uber are going electric. 

Excluding visitors to Yellowstone National Park, the largest group of out-of-state visitors to the Cowboy State are coming from Colorado, Turpen said, where 16% of all new vehicle sales are EVs. 

“It’s just going to keep going up, because the state’s [Colorado] throwing all kinds of incentives at it,” Turpen said. 

Turpen said that for most EV owners, an electric car is their second or third vehicle. In some cases, he said, driving a Tesla is a status symbol. 

“They’re kind of a new BMW,” he said. “They drive like assholes and they’re really proud of the fact.”

Working With The Feds

The Wyoming Department of Transportation submitted its EV charging station plan by the Aug. 1 deadline. 

While it wasn’t on the list of first-round approvals, WDOT spokesperson Jordan Achs said the state worked closely with the reviewing body at the federal agencies overseeing the program. So far, they’ve not heard from those agencies that Wyoming’s plan needs any revisions. 

“We’ve been communicating with them on ideas about our plan and what they were looking for … pretty much up until we submitted it,” Achs said. 

Wyoming’s funding through the NEVI program pales in comparison to more populous states. The feds are giving $383 million to California and more than $400 million to Texas.

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Wyoming Senators Snub Joe Manchin In Favor Of GOP Permitting Reform Bill

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

With the feds owning so much of Wyoming, few industries in the Cowboy State can develop projects without asking the federal government for permission. 

It’s a process that often means long delays and, in some cases, projects never get off the ground.

It’s also sparked a battle on Capitol Hill with Republicans and Democrats presenting their own playbooks for permitting reform. While Republicans released their version last week, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, went public late Wednesday with the Democrats’ long-awaited permitting reform bill. 

Wyoming Republican Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso have publicly backed a Republican permitting reform bill that Sen. Shelley Capito, R-West Virginia, introduced while the Democrats were holding back on releasing theirs. 

Lummis said Wednesday that the effort to streamline federal permitting could have gone much better with more collaboration from Manchin. 

“If Sen. Manchin came to the table and was ready to negotiate in good faith, I believe we could make some real progress on meaningful permitting reform,” Lummis said.

Prior to the release of Manchin’s bill Wednesday, Lummis continued to back Capito’s version. 

“I am open to hearing Sen. Manchin’s solutions and ideas to address the permitting backlog in our country. I joined Sen. Barrasso in cosponsoring Senator Capito’s permitting reform bill because it will have a real impact for the people of Wyoming,” Lummis said. 

She said the permit-streamlining provisions of Capito’s bill, the Simplify Timelines and Assure Regulatory Transparency (START) Act, will “unleash domestic energy production capabilities at a time when the costs to fill our cars and heat our homes is skyrocketing.” 

Lummis also pointed out that because so much energy development in Wyoming happens on federal land, most projects are “hamstrung by onerous federal permitting processes.” 

A comparison between the CK Gold Mine, which is on state and private land between Laramie and Cheyenne, and the Sundance-area Bear Lodge Project, which is on federal land, illustrates the problem. 

Rare Element Resources owns the Bear Lodge Project and began its federal permitting process for a rare earth element mining operation in 2012, but by 2015 had run out of money. It suspended its permitting process with hopes to restart the operation with a refining demonstration project near Upton. The company continues to gather environmental data in hopes of satisfying federal requirements should operations resume. 

Meanwhile, U.S. Gold Corp. officials said the Wyoming process for operations at the company’s CK Gold Mine on state land shouldn’t take more than 18 months before construction can begin. 

Barrasso had been critical of Manchin’s bill since a draft version was released earlier this summer. With the release of the full bill, Barrasso was no more warm to Manchin’s approach to reform. 

“Our top priority must be unleashing American energy. This bill falls short of that. It does nothing to boost production in the United States. It gives Washington bureaucrats new power to impose costly electric transmission projects around the country,” Barrasso said. 

Barrasso said that provisions of the bill could, if passed, require Wyoming electricity consumers to foot the bill for projects in other states, such as California. 

“If Democrats are serious about promoting energy independence, they should support the meaningful permitting reform put forward in Senator Capito’s START Act,” Barrasso said. 

Democrat Plan 

Dubbed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2022, Manchin’s bill has a number of provisions aimed at streamlining federal permitting. 

According to a summary of the bill, the bill sets a 2-year target for reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act for major energy and natural resource projects. The projects require an environmental impact statement, which can sometimes delay permitting of mines, wind farms, transmission lines, and oil and gas projects for up to a decade. 

Manchin’s bill also expands existing authority to give the federal government increased permitting authority for transmission lines that the secretary of energy determines to be in the national interest. If passed, the bill would require the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to ensure project costs are allocated to benefitting customers and allows FERC to approve payments from utilities to jurisdictions impacted by a project. 

In a speech on the Senate floor yesterday, Manchin discussed how long it can take to permit projects and how it’s holding back energy production, which is raising energy costs for Americans.

“Our producers are handcuffed by an arduous permitting process that doesn’t allow them to meet the supply problems that we’re facing,” Manchin said. 

It’s not just oil and gas projects, the lawmaker noted.  

“If you’re on the renewable side, and you want all renewable — no fossil whatsoever — you can’t get a transmission line built,” Manchin said. 

Opposition 

Manchin had made a deal with Democratic leaders in Congress that, in exchange for Manchin’s support on the Inflation Reduction Act, they would support his push for permitting reform. 

Yet, the bill faces opposition from both sides of the aisle. 

Manchin’s bill is set to be included in the federal funding vehicle known as the continuing resolution. If the resolution isn’t passed by the end of the month, a partial shutdown of the federal government is triggered. 

Manchin had released a draft of the bill this summer, and based on the provisions in that draft that align fairly closely to the bill released Wednesday, opposition was already brewing. 

A House opposition letter signed by 70 progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, shows a high degree of resistance among Democrats. 

“These destructive provisions will allow polluting manufacturing and energy development projects to be rushed through before the families who are forced to live near them are even aware of the plans,” the letter read. 

Environmental groups also have spoken out against the bill, as well as any weakening of environmental reviews for projects. 

“While we must rapidly build out the infrastructure to unleash clean energy, we cannot silence the communities most impacted by development in the process. Weakening the National Environmental Policy Act and other bedrock environmental protections will only entrench environmental injustices that we must remedy as we build the new clean economy promised by the Inflation Reduction Act,” Earthjustice said in a statement. 

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New Gold Mine West Of Cheyenne Could Employ 2,600 People; Generate $75 Million In Tax Revenue

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily

A proposed gold and copper mine west of Cheyenne could potentially breathe new life into the area near a southern Wyoming ghost town.

Having submitted its mine permit application with the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, U.S. Gold Corp. officials say the company is in a good position with its planned CK Gold project near the ghost town of Hecla between Laramie and Cheyenne near Curt Gowdy State Park.  

That could be good news for Wyoming workers looking for jobs.

When operational, the gold and copper mine will directly employ more than 300 permanent workers and generate an estimated $75 million in tax revenue during its estimated 10- to 15-year lifespan, which includes construction and reclamation, said Edward Carr, who founded U.S. Gold Corp. and now works as a consultant.

University of Wyoming researchers estimate 2,600 direct and indirect jobs in that time. Construction of the mine will create an estimated 1,900 jobs — not all at once — and another 650 to 700 jobs would indirectly support construction workers and miners. 

The reclamation process will employ an estimated 58 people. 

The permitting process through the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality will take an about 18 months, and then construction can begin.

Carr said working with the state of Wyoming is considerably different than with the Bureau of Land Management, at an exploration operation on federal land in central Nevada. Because the CK Gold mine is on state and private land, the company has hasn’t had to jump through some of the hoops required to mine federal land.

“I remember going into the BLM office in Elko, (Nevada) and we were the enemy,” Carr said. “I mean, it was very confrontational, combative.”

Carr said it was an entirely different experience working with Wyoming agencies on the CK Gold Mine. 

“I went to the authorities here, and they were like, ‘Hey, can we get you a cup of coffee? How can we help?’ It was unbelievable. Like, wow, these guys are great,” Carr said.

No Nasty Chemicals

The area has been mined since the 1800s, when the railroads first came through. The CK Gold Mine is near Hecla, which once was home to hundreds of people but has long since been abandoned. Several historic mines dot the landscape around the CK Gold Mine site, but major mining operations ended just prior to World War II. 

Miners in the 1800s worked with pack animals and pickaxes to dig through raw ore that contained about 12 grams of gold per ton. 

Going underground and “chasing veins” of gold wasn’t economical, said U.S. Gold Corp President and CEO George Bee. That’s why operations weren’t sustained. 

Bee has been in the mining industry for about 40 years and has worked mines in the Andes Mountains up at 14,000 feet in elevation and operations involving a thousand employees. 

The CK Gold Mine will be an open-pit shovel operation similar to the Granite Canyon quarry 3 miles away. The ore will produce about 0.7 grams of gold per ton, and a bit of copper. 

The operation will crush and grind the copper- and gold-bearing rock. Then, using a process called froth floatation, will create a concentrate. That will be refined off site at refineries in Utah and elsewhere. 

“So, as a consequence, we don’t have any metal extraction with no emissions from a stack or we don’t have any nasty chemicals,” Bee said. 

He also said the operation also won’t require cyanide, which is often used to leach gold from mined ore. And since rock in the area is as waterproof as granite, it won’t have any impact on the water table. 

The company will buy water from the Cheyenne Board of Public Utilities, which has a pipeline running near the mine. It will also have to pay several million dollars in system impact fees. 

That means U.S. Gold won’t drill wells or build additional pipelines. 

Keep It Local

Besides permitting with agencies that Carr said have been helpful, the operation has other strengths. After working high in the Andes, Bee said that having the Wyoming operation near Interstate 80 will make logistics easier. With all the open-pit mining in the Powder River Basin in northeastern Wyoming, the company also has access to equipment, suppliers and manufacturers. 

Bee said the company plans to hire local people and local contractors, with the aim of making the mine benefit Wyoming as much as possible. He said he’s not too concerned about challenges in recruiting mine workers. At operations in Nevada, he said U.S. Gold provided training to people who transitioned from service industries and managed to have enough people. 

The company also has done a lot of outreach with property owners in the area and is trying to be as open as it can be about the plans, Bee said. 

The operation will impact about 972 acres. The pit itself is about 80 acres, and remaining will be dedicated for a processing mill, shop, roads and tailings piles (i.e. what’s left after the concentrate is extracted). 

After the mining operation is done, the reclamation process will return the area back to pasture land. The pit will be backfilled. The tailings piles will be squeezed to remove as much of the water as possible, stacked and compacted. That will then be covered with rock and topsoil, which will be set aside during mining, will cover the rock. Lastly, native grasses will be planted. 

“Once it’s all done, we will then make sure the slopes are nice and gentle,” Bee said.

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High Gas Prices Haven’t Sparked Wyoming Coal Generation

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Natural gas prices continue to climb, greatly increasing the cost competitiveness of coal electrical generation.

“We know anecdotally that across the country, if we look at just total coal production, that’s up. And coal production in Wyoming is almost entirely used for electricity generation,” said University of Wyoming energy economist Robert Godby. 

It’s too early to tell for sure whether Wyoming coal-fired plants are producing more electricity in 2022, but preliminary data from the first six months of the year doesn’t show a “discernable pattern” across the Cowboy State, Godby said. Some plants are up and some are down. 

The only combined-cycle natural gas generating plant — meaning it uses gas and a steam turbine together to produce electricity — in Wyoming is the Cheyenne Prairie Generating Station operated by Black Hills Corp. It’s seen preliminary production numbers drop slightly since February. 

There are a lot of things that go into affecting how much electricity any plant will produce, and cost of fuel is one of many factors.

One that helps determine how much coal generation plants produce is the availability ofwind and solar resources. Utilities will tap into those first, because when wind is blowing and the sun is shining, they’re the cheapest. And the wind resource this year was particularly good. 

“​​If people imagine that last spring and winter were much windier … they would actually be right,” Godby said. 

Another factor in how all this plays out on the electricity market is demand. Much of Wyoming had a cooler-than-average spring, which increases demand for heating energy. 

Wyoming also exports most of the electricity its plants produce, about 13 times more than Wyomingites consume. This is second only to Texas. 

The export market, which influences demand throughout Western states, will impact how much coal generation is produced in Wyoming, Godby said. There also are environmental goals and emission-reduction targets that may play into the demand for coal generation. 

“So, it’s a pretty complicated system,” he said. 

Total coal production in Wyoming is up only slightly over last year, when it hit 239 million tons. This year, Godbey said the Cowboy State is on pace to be somewhere in the low 240 million tons. 

In coal’s heyday, Wyoming’s peak year of 2008 saw the Powder River Basin sell more than 446 million tons of the mineral. Then, Wyoming coal accounted for 50% of the nation’s electricity generation. That’s fallen to about 20% today.

The problem now is that mines wanting to ramp up production have some limitations. Finding workers is much harder after rounds of layoffs over the past half-dozen years. Supply chain issues also make it hard to get equipment, and limited rail capacity makes it difficult to ship coal to power plants. 

“Even if you did want to expand it, it’s very difficult to do that right now,” Godby said. 

He also cautions about putting too much stock in electricity generation figures. It’s survey data that’s reported to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Before official annual figures are released, errors are sometimes corrected and revisions made. Also, not all plants have reported all their production.  

The summer months will have a big impact on annual totals as well. After June, wind resources drop considerably and demand rises as people run their air conditioners.

Feds Recommend More Oversight of Wyoming Natrium Nuclear Project

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

As companies continue to push cutting-edge nuclear energy technologies, the federal government has become a major investor, pumping billions of dollars into a handful of demonstration projects. That includes nearly $2 billion for TerraPower’s Natruim project planned near Kemmerer.

A new report from the Government Accountability Office says the feds need more oversight of where and how that public money is being spent.

The report recommends the U.S. Department of Energy tighten the reins on government-funded nuclear demonstration projects like Natrium demonstration plant, which will be built near the Naughton Power Plant site, which is scheduled to be retired soon.

In Wyoming, the notion of more federal oversight isn’t generally welcomed. And the GAO recommendation has some former state lawmakers wary.

“While oversight is very important, I don’t want the process bogged down by government bureaucrats,” said former state Rep. Dave Miller, a Riverton Republican who co-sponsored a 2020 bill that allows gas- and coal-fired power plants to replace their generators with small nuclear reactors.

“We already have an NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) for oversight,” he said. “I don’t think additional federal agencies will be helpful.”

Miller, a uranium facilities expert whose services have been used throughout the world, has long been an advocate of nuclear energy and remains excited about the demonstration project. 

“Sodium-cooled reactors have been around for 70 years. The U.S. pioneered their development. Now TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power are putting an actual plant into operation,” Miller said. 

As exciting as that is, Miller said he doesn’t want to see more government red tape slowing the project’s momentum. 

The DOE made three awards totaling $4.6 billion in the last fiscal year. Along with the TerraPower project, demonstration projects in Idaho and Washington also got money. 

The GAO report says the offices of Nuclear Energy and Clean Energy Demonstrations have taken several actions to manage risks associated with the awards, and they also plan to implement additional project management practices. It also says oversight “would allow DOE to share best practices across offices during the course of these multi-year awards, potentially resulting in stronger federal oversight of the projects and improved project performance.”

Trying To Change The Game

TerraPower is a nuclear power innovation company founded by software developer Bill Gates and GE Hitachi, which developed the Natrium technology that will be used in the reactor. It allows for smaller nuclear plants, as well as improved safety measures.  Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, also is a major partner.

When Wyoming was first announced as home for the first Natrium demonstration plant, Gov. Mark Gordon hailed its potential as being “game-changing and monumental” for U.S. energy.

As some are skeptical of the GAO’s report, Jeff Nevin, director of external affairs for TerraPower, said the recommendations won’t get in the way of the project’s development. 

Congress chartered the GAO to ensure taxpayer money is protected, said Nevin, who was formerly chief of staff at the DOE. 

“I’ve seen a bit of my fair share of GAO reports,” he said. 

The X-Energy project in Washington, which received $1.2 billion for its demonstration, and TerraPower were shifted into the new Office of Clean Energy Demonstration, which has access to the vault.

“So what the GAO, I think, is saying, (is) ‘you’ve got two very large projects that are moving over to the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations,” Nevin said. “You got to make sure you get the staff right, you got to make sure that you’re setting the oversight up, right, you got to make sure that you have the controls in place to ensure that milestones are being met.”

Not A Concern

Nevin said nothing in the GAO report comes as a surprise, nor was anything of particular concern. Since the company is putting up matching money, it has as much of an incentive to see that the same controls the government wants are in place anyway.

“So, if we’re wasting millions of dollars, that’s millions of dollars of our own money that we’re wasting,” he said. 

If he has any quibble, Nevin said it’s that the report doesn’t mention how important it is to see projects are completed. The objective when Congress put in place the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations is to see that a fully functional, working commercial reactor is built. 

Nevin agreed there’s always the threat that overreach could slow a project down, but he doesn’t see anything in the report that would suggest that is going to happen in Wyoming.

“We’re fully comfortable with everything that was in that report,” he said. 

When finished, Wyoming will be home to a 354-megawatt sodium-cooled fast reactor with a molten salt-based energy storage system. The storage technology can boost the system’s output to 500 megawatts that, according to an announcement of the project, will integrate with renewable energy sources for faster and more cost-effective decarbonization of electrical generation. 

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Local Officials Promote ‘All-Of-The-Above’ Energy Approach In Video Series

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By Kevin Killough, Energy Reporter
Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne Mayor Patrick Collins is one of a few local officials participating in a video series by Powering Up Wyoming that highlights the benefits of renewable energy for Cowboy State communities. 

One video displays “How do you see wind supporting our legacy industries?” in white letters on a black background. It then cuts to Collins explaining that Wyoming loves its abundant coal, oil and natural gas resources.

“It’s carried the bill for us for decades, but consumers are making different decisions today,” Collins says. “And the demand for coal, oil and gas are going down.”

To be relevant in today’s energy market, Collins said Wyoming needs to pursue an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy. 

“And wind is a very important part of that for Laramie County and Cheyenne,” he says. 

In another video from August, Collins promotes renewable energy as a vehicle to keep young people in the state. Wyoming is getting “greyer,” Collins said, referring to the average age of the state’s population, which continues to climb. 

“As we get older, we have to have the kind of industries that keep our kids here,” Collins says. “I want to see my grandkids raised here in Cheyenne.”

Chris Brown, executive director of Powering Up Wyoming, said the videos are part of an ongoing promotion. Future videos will include other parts of the interview with Collins, as well as interviews with other local officials from around the state, including Casper City Councilor Kyle Gamroth. 

In one video featuring Gamroth, the councilmember talks of local revenue generation from wind projects like the Anticline Wind Project north of Casper, which he says would bring in tens of millions of dollars in local, state and property taxes over the next 30 years. 

Collins told Cowboy State Daily that renewable projects are contributing heavily to Cheyenne revenues, such as the Roundhouse Wind Project west of the city, for example, which generates about $900,000 in annual revenue for the city. 

Those types of revenues also ballooned one of the sales tax payments to the city to about $1.3 million, the mayor said. 

“We were afraid to cash it because the number was so high,” Collins said. “We thought there might have been a mistake.”

Power Up Wyoming was founded in 2020 with the mission to promote wind, solar and electricity storage as part of a strategy to diversify the state’s energy economy. 

“As demand for energy outside of our borders continues to evolve, Powering Up Wyoming is working hard to make sure that renewable energy — wind, solar and storage — are at the table with our legacy industries as part of an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy plan for Wyoming,” said Chris Brown, the group’s executive director. 

Brown said Powering Up doesn’t advocate against traditional energy sources like oil, gas, nuclear and coal. Instead, it advocates on behalf of renewable energy industries to bring help diversify the state’s energy portfolio. 

Brown said educating people on the benefits of renewable energy and debunking myths associated with it are a large part of what Power Up Wyoming does. It also works with decision-makers at state and local levels to keep renewable energy moving forward. 

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to ensure those decisions embrace renewable investment for communities and for the state,” Brown said. 

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Barrasso, Lummis Say Blaming Oil Companies For High Energy Costs Is Foolish; AOC Disagrees

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Members of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform held a hearing Thursday asking oil companies to explain why, as energy costs are soaring, they are making record-high profits.

The day before the hearing, Committee Chair Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., the Chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, and Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., released their initial findings into what Maloney and Khanna claim has been a campaign by the fossil fuel industry to mislead the American people about their role in climate change. 

While several oil company executives were asked to testify at the hearing, none did. 

Maloney set the tone of the hearing in her opening remarks, sitting in front of a poster showing second quarter 2022 profits from Exxon, Chevron, and BP. All of them saw profits rise over 200% from the second quarter of 2021.

“These companies use this windfall profits to enrich investors and boost salaries of top executives. Their clean energy investments however, were a drop in the bucket,” Maloney said. 

“Instead of looking for solutions, it seems that Democrats in Congress would prefer to continue demonizing our main source of reliable energy,” said U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis. 

Sen. John Barrasso called this and similar hearings in the past “show trials” that are intended to “divert attention away from the sky-high energy prices and record inflation their policies have helped cause.” 

After a similar hearing last summer, Barrasso said, “The surest way to bring down prices at the pump is to allow American companies to produce more oil here at home. That means offshore, on federal land, and in Alaska. It will help boost the economy, fight inflation, and make paychecks go further. From day one, the Biden administration has been blocking access to American energy resources.”

Committee member Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., talked about oil companies’ lobbying and advertising efforts. 

“For example, between October 1 and October 22 of 2021 100% of Politico’s morning energy newsletters were sponsored and funded by the fossil fuel industry,” Ocasio-Cortez said. 

The same increase in newsletter sponsorship, Ocasio-Cortez said, started three weeks before the $1.7 trillion Build Back Better Act passed in November.  

Climate Impacts

The hearing included a number of witnesses who testified that they have been impacted by extreme weather events, which they said were caused by or made worse by climate change. 

Among those testifying on the impacts of extreme weather events was Jasmin Sanchez, a lifelong resident of a New York City public housing development in Manhattan. Sanchez testified about how Hurricane Sandy in 2012 caused flooding and power outages.

“I waded through the freezing water to find that I was unable to open the lobby door because of the force of water. When I was finally able to get into the building, the water was above my knees. Climate justice is a racial justice issue,” Sanchez said. 

She said the hurricane showed the inequalities of the city, because people without a car or the resources to relocate were stuck in the middle of the storm, with few resources to stay safe. 

In its latest report, the International Panel on Climate Change concluded that there is no consensus on the relative role of CO2 emissions on Atlantic hurricane activity. 

“[T]here is still no consensus on the relative magnitude of human and natural influences on past changes in Atlantic hurricane activity, and particularly on which factor has dominated the observed increase (Ting et al., 2015) and it remains uncertain whether past changes in Atlantic TC [tropical cyclone] activity are outside the range of natural variability,” the IPCC said in its sixth assessment report released last year. 

Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never, testified as a minority witness. Shellenberger blamed energy policies in the developed world for having caused “the worst energy crisis in 50 years.” 

“There is no scientific scenario for mass death from climate change. A far more immediate and dangerous threat is insufficient energy supplies due to U.S. government policies and actions aimed at reducing oil and gas production,” Shellenberger said. 

According to the International Disaster Database, a non-partisan source on deaths from natural disasters, deaths from climate-related natural disasters have declined 98% since 1920. 

Other individuals provided testimony on the impacts of climate change on agriculture, forest fires and floods. 

Industry Defenders

Rep. Garret Graves, R-LA., testified to projections of the increases in demand for energy in the future. Citing projections from the Biden Administration, Graves said global energy demand will increase 50% in the next 28 year. 

“Rather than preparing for that scenario … we see the complete opposite,” Graves said. 

Graves said the Biden Administration has issued the fewest lease sales on public lands of any previous administration. 

“Energy policies of this administration have caused this distortion between supply and demand. You have a surge in demand, with cutting off supply. So folks are sitting here saying, this is awful that these companies are having these profits. You’ve created it by cutting off supply to meet demand, it’s your fault,” Graves said. 

Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Wyoming Petroleum Association, criticized the Democrats’ tactics in the hearing. He said that solutions to problems like climate change are not going to be successful without the oil and gas industry at the table, working collaboratively to find an effective way forward. 

“Trying to demonize the industry may be good for funding their campaigns, but it doesn’t find any meaningful solutions,” McConnaughey said. 

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As Nation’s Energy Bills Rise, Wyoming Keeps Electric Rates Lower Than Average

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

It’s hard to escape high energy costs these days. Gasoline prices have come down in the past couple months, but they remain higher than they were last year. There are many other areas where energy costs hit pocketbooks. Just about every business consumes energy, whether it’s fuel or electricity. So rising energy costs are contributing, at least partly, to inflationary pressures on food, housing, and everything. 

Retail electricity rates rose nearly 16% in August over last year, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. As those costs rise, Wyoming consumers are pretty fortunate. 

U.S. Energy Information Administration data in June, ranked Wyoming 46th in retail electric prices, at 11.75 cents per kilowatt hour. Washington had the lowest rates, at 10.49 cents per kilowatt hour. California was second highest with 28.98 cents per kilowatt hour, and the top spot was Hawaii, with a whopping 44.09 cents per kilowatt hour. 

Commercial electricity rates in Wyoming in June were 20% lower than the national average. Bucky Hall, owner of Caleco Foundry in Cody, said the business uses a lot of electricity for machinery such as air compressors, but he hasn’t seen any really huge increases in the costs of his power in the past couple of years. 

Hall hasn’t heard any concerns from his office manager, who actually pays the electric bills. 

“She hasn’t said anything like, ‘Oh my god.’ So I’m assuming the rates haven’t gone off the charts,” Hall said. 

A couple wholesale suppliers of electricity in Wyoming say they’ve actually decreased the wholesale rates they charge. 

Basin Electric Power Cooperative, provides power to cooperatives throughout Wyoming — from Powell to Lusk — as well as states throughout the West. In August, the company announced a rate decrease that it estimates will save its members approximately $33.5 million in 2023. 

“One of the unique benefits of the cooperative is that when a co-op does well financially, its members do, too,” said Basin Electric CEO and General Manager Todd Telesz, in a press release on the decrease. 

Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., served power to approximately 46,259 customers in Wyoming in December 2021. Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc. provides power to eight power cooperatives across Wyoming, including some of the same cooperatives that buy power from Basin Electric. 

Lee Boughey, vice president of communications for Tri-State, said the company reduced its rates 2% in March 2021, and then another 2% in March 2022. 

“The not-for-profit cooperative business model supports power affordability. With rugged terrain and fewer customers per mile, it is more expensive to deliver power in the West. Co-ops operate at cost, and return any excess revenues to their members,” Boughey said. 

Boughey added, Tri-State allocated $26 million in patronage capital to its members in 2021, which is basically money back to the member cooperatives. 

Tri-State, Boughey explained, has a range of generation resources, including coal, natural gas, hydroelectric, and wind to draw on. This includes the Laramie River Power Station, which, Boughey said, is one of the cheapest electricity generation stations in the county.

Boughey said Tri-State isn’t immune to inflationary pressures anymore than any other power provider, but it maintains efficiencies and cost-cutting measures to keep rates as low as possible. 

Tri-State also participates in a regional transmission organization, which Boughey said helps them tap into a wide pool of resources across the western grid. 

In 2020, data from the EIA showed Wyoming electricity rates were 8.27 cents per kilowatt hour, which was the fourth lowest in the country. Louisiana had the lowest, with 7.51 cents. 

Electricity is a subset — about 20% — of the total energy consumed. Industrial heating and transportation make up the bulk of energy people use. The 12-month change in energy costs for all energy Americans consume, according to DOL data, was 24%, and that includes a 25.6% jump in gasoline prices since August of last year. The cost of natural gas increased 33% in the same period.  

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Gordon: Wamsutter, Wyoming Is Ground Zero For Hydrogen Power; Williams To Invest $300 Million

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Gov Mark Gordon At Williams Energy $300 Million Hydrogen Announcement

By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

WAMSUTTER — Hydrogen is getting some attention in Wyoming.

A new initiative by Williams, an energy company that handles about a third of the natural gas in America, is researching into producing hydrogen production as a clean energy source, and it’s using its existing infrastructure in Wamsutter in Sweetwater County for this research. 

A delegation of legislators, local representatives, and representatives from the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources (SER) met in Wamsutter to hear Governor Mark Gordon speak on Williams’ initiative. 

“Wamsutter is ground zero for the future of this country and the future of energy,” Gordon said.

Additionally, Williams plans to invest $300 million over the next two years in its operations in Sweetwater County, Zamarin said. 

“We’re bringing development back,” said Chad Zamarin, senior vice-president of corporate strategic development. 

Zamarin said Wyoming is highly important to the company’s operations. 

“We think of Wyoming as the beating heart of our energy infrastructure,” Zamarin said, adding that the company’s infrastructure stretched across the United States. 



Williams is partnering with the SER to pursue research into hydrogen development, which is supported by matching funds from the state, future grants from the U.S. Department of Energy, as well as direct support from the company. 

The company has around 5,000 miles of pipelines in Wyoming and over 30,000 nationwide, as well as other natural gas infrastructure, which will be used to produce and transport hydrogen products. 

Unlike natural gas, hydrogen is not a source of energy, but rather a carrier of energy. It’s highly reactive, and when it comes into contact with oxygen, it produces water and energy. This is what makes it attractive as a fuel for transportation. A car running on hydrogen would produce clean, drinkable water and no CO2. 

There’s various ways to make hydrogen, all of which require a large amount of energy. Various colors are assigned to the different ways it can be produced. Zamarin explained that Williams will be looking into making hydrogen from natural gas, which is called blue hydrogen. That process produces CO2 as a byproduct, which is then sequestered underground. 

To illustrate his thoughts on energy policy, Gordon spoke of how when he was growing up, a neighbor purchased an International Harvester Scout, an early type of SUV. It was the first time the neighbor had any vehicle.

The neighbor drove the vehicle down a hill, but didn’t know about using the brake pedal to stop. Instead, he pulled on the steering wheel, just as one would pull back on the reins of a horse. As his speed picked up, he ended up pulling the steering wheel off. 

“That’s a little bit the way our energy posture as a nation is at this point. There are some things that we’re doing that we don’t really understand, but we can solve,” the governor said. 

To further illustrate the point of learning and developing technologies, Gordon recounted attempts by Hamilton Standard and Boeing to put up wind turbines in the 1980s. 

“And they never ran very well, because they threw blades. Nobody understood what the challenges of Wyoming wind were,” Gordon said. 

Gordon said that producing electricity from renewables will be part of the equation to the future of energy, and hydrogen, utilizing existing technologies and infrastructure, will be a significant energy source for transportation. 

“How to run this country with clean hydrogen. That is something we’ve talked about for over 20 years, and never gotten as close as we are today,” Gordon said. 



Another way to produce hydrogen is separating hydrogen in water molecules from oxygen, through a process of electrolysis. But Gordon stressed that Wyoming’s water would not be used for hydrogen production.

“We’re not going to burn water for transportation,” Gordon said. 

Zamarin said about 2 billion people across the world still use coal, wood, and dung for cooking and basic heating. 

“Two billion people still need access to cleaner energy, more reliable energy, more affordable energy. And so we are focused on meeting that need,” Zamarin said. 

Williams COO Micheal Dunn said one of the characteristics of Wyoming is that its energy sector is so well supported by the state, and there’s a lot of collaboration between partners when it comes to innovation, such as Williams’ collaboration with the SER.

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Wyoming Energy Dodges Bullet With Railroad Strike Halt 

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By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyoming mineral producers may have issued a collective sigh of relief Thursday morning. 

According to the White House and various railroad groups, a tentative agreement has been reached between railroad companies and unions, avoiding a strike that would have had a disastrous effect on Wyoming’s mineral industry and consumers nationwide.  

“We’re very pleased about a tentative deal in sight but we’re holding our breath until it is finalized,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

 Early Thursday morning, President Joe Biden announced a deal had been struck between rail companies and their labor unions, fending off a strike that would have started Friday. The impending strike already led to the cancellation of Amtrak’s long-distance passenger trains and would have severely hampered the distribution of some of America’s most critical goods. 

Deti said this strike would have had a dramatic effect not only on coal, but also natural soda ash and bentonite producers in Wyoming.

He said rail is the only mode of transportation possible to ship coal outside of the state. Deti said a strike would have dramatically impacted energy prices for consumers nationwide, as supplies of coal are already historically low, at levels not seen since the 1970s. 

In many ways, a strike would have exacerbated an already less than desirable relationship between energy producers and the railroad. 

Deti said railroad companies have not been able to provide enough railcars to ship coal out in recent years. It’s a deeply frustrating situation for coal producers, who have an opportune market to compete in right now with high consumer demand brought on by high gas prices. 

“We’re probably missing out (on shipping) 30 million tons of coal this year,” he said. “We’re simply not getting a lot of coal out right now.” 

He said it is local governments and schools that bear the trickle-down effect of decreasing mineral revenues.The State of Wyoming relies on a significant portion of its yearly revenue from energy.  

“The effects are tremendous,” Deti said. “We just can’t get it out of the state and that’s lost revenue for the state and local governments.” 

Ryan McConnaughey, vice president and director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said a railroad strike could have significant impacts “all along the petroleum landscape.” Petroleum refineries heavily depend on the railroad for shipping in supplies and exporting products.  

McConnaughey said a railroad strike would have also impacted natural gas producers. He said these producers rely on trains for bringing various supplies that are used during production, such as the steel pipe used for drilling. He said the supply chains for many of these products have already been hampered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  

“It’s a pretty big concern when it comes to a delay or halting of rail movement,” McConnaughey said. 

Deti said he is hopeful but not confident railroads can continue to avoid a strike and provide more railcars in the future. 

“In the case of a strike, this country would be in a world of hurt,” he said.

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Barrasso Rips Biden For Draining Strategic Petroleum Reserve To Lowest Level In Nearly 40 Years

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

Since gasoline prices started to climb to record highs last year, President Joe Biden has been siphoning off large amounts of the nation’s emergency stockpile of petroleum, in hopes of easing prices at the pump. 

Citing U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) data, Reuters reported that the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve dropped to 453.1 million barrels, which is the lowest level since October 1984. 

Near the end of November last year, Biden announced he’d release 50 million barrels from the reserve. Since then, the administration has continued to tap the stockpile to feed energy demand, with 8.4 million barrels released earlier this month. 

Delegation Reaction

Immediately after Biden announced the reserve draws, Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso criticized the strategy, arguing it wouldn’t provide any long-term solutions to the problem. 

“The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is there for emergencies – national emergencies, war – not to cover over bad policies,” Barrasso said Wednesday. “Desperate gimmicks like releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve don’t solve the fundamental problem: America’s energy crisis is a supply crisis. The solution is more American energy, but it’s the one solution the Biden administration won’t allow.”

Wyoming’s junior Senator Cynthia Lummis concurred with Barrasso stating that Biden was “trying to cover up his mistakes” as a result of his energy policy decisions.

“It was a mistake to release oil from the shrinking Strategic Petroleum Reserve,” Lummis said. “The Reserve exists to aid our nation in the event of a global energy crisis, not in the event of poor planning and bad policy decisions.”

Wyoming Republican congressional candidate Harriet Hageman said the president “so badly mangled” U.S. energy policy that it is a “disaster wherever you look.”

“They are destroying domestic production, driving fuel prices higher, and driving inflation that increases the cost of food and housing,” Hageman told Cowboy State Daily. “When I get to Congress I will be a strong voice against this attack on our own economy and national security.”

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney did not respond for comment.

Going To End Fossil Fuel

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the total petroleum in the reserve climbed over 700 million barrels in April 2008, and remained above that mark until after September 2011.

The reserve didn’t fall below 600 million barrels until last December, and then continued falling to 434.1 million barrels last week. The amount of petroleum in the reserve would supply the U.S. petroleum needs for about three weeks.

During his campaign in 2019, Biden didn’t mince words when speaking on his views toward the oil and gas industry.  

“I guarantee you we’re going to end fossil fuel,” Biden said at one campaign event. 

Shortly after taking office, Biden signed executive orders revoking permits that would have allowed the Keystone XL Pipeline and canceled oil lease sales. 

“President Biden’s move to tap the strategic petroleum reserve was an ill-conceived attempt to placate the American people as gas prices increased and his poll numbers plummeted,” said Ryan McConnaughey, vice president and director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. 

McConnaughey called the move a “symbolic gesture” and said Biden “should have embraced leasing reform, held quarterly oil and gas lease sales, and encouraged domestic production to better insulate American consumers from global instability.” 

Though gasoline prices started to rise well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Biden has long attributed the problem to the war. 

At a press briefing in June, Biden’s Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre defended the use of the reserve, saying “President has taken historic actions to address [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s price hike at the pump.”

Jean-Pierre also blamed oil companies for making record high profits while gasoline prices are so high. She asked them to do more to increase production and lower prices. 

What Is The SPR? 

The SPR is an emergency petroleum stockpile stored in underground salt caverns in Louisiana and Texas. According to the DOE, the caverns are created by drilling a well into salt formations and then injecting water into the hole, which dissolves the salt. 

The U.S. began putting petroleum into the reserve in 1975, in response to the oil crisis that began in 1973 when oil-producing countries of the Middle East started an oil embargo. 

While previous presidents at various times have ordered emergency releases of petroleum from the SPR, the largest by far has been under the Biden Administration. 

“The SPR was designed to assist the United States in times of significant upheaval, and we would encourage the administration to replace those reserves as soon as possible,” McConnaughey said.

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Wyoming Carbon Capture Project Will Be Largest In Country, But Will Raise Energy Costs

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

A climate technology company announced plans to build a direct air capture (DAC) CO2 removal system in Wyoming is creating quite the buzz. 

CarbonCapture Inc. formed a partnership with Frontier Carbon Solutions, a partnership the companies dubbed Project Bison. In its press release announcing the project, the companies said this facility will be the largest carbon removal system of its kind. By 2030, the company said it will remove 5 million tons of atmospheric CO2 every year. 

That’s roughly the equivalent emissions put out by 762,000 cars per year.  

“With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the proliferation of companies seeking high-quality carbon removal credits, and a disruptive low-cost technology, we now have the ingredients needed to scale DAC to megaton levels by the end of this decade,” said CarbonCapture CEO and CTO Adrian Corless, in the release. 

The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act, which appropriated millions for various green energy initiatives, boosted the tax credit companies can tap into for direct air capture projects from $50 per ton of CO2 to $180 per ton of CO2. 

To put this into perspective, according to figures from NASA, a gallon of gasoline produces 20 pounds of CO2 when burnt in an engine. So, if CO2 emissions were taxed at $180 per ton, every gallon of gas sold would need to be taxed about $1.80 on top of existing taxes. 

The 45Q tax credit, as it’s called, is intended to incentivize these kinds of projects as another tool to fight climate change. While the tax credit isn’t a direct subsidy paid to a company, an enormous amount of capital will need to be invested to scale these kinds of technologies up to a level they have any meaningful impact on CO2 emissions. 

Bobby Tudor of Houston-based Tudor, Pickering, Holt & Co., a Houston-based investment and financial advising firm with ties to the oil and gas industry, told Bloomberg last June that in order to get a return on commercial-scale projects, it will require a price to be placed on the CO2 that’s captured. That means, Tudor told Bloomberg, “significant government subsidies.” 

Ultimately, that would mean carbon taxes that companies will pay for the CO2 emissions they produce in the course of business. 

Energy expert Alex Epstein, author of Fossil Future, warns this kind of tax will ultimately increase the cost for all businesses. 

“Since all energy directly or indirectly emits CO2, a carbon tax would make all energy more expensive — adding the most costs to coal, oil, and natural gas,” Epstein wrote in an online resource of talking points on energy issues. 

The Institute for Energy Research, a nonprofit doing research on government regulation and global energy markets, analyzed Australia’s carbon tax impacts. One year after it was enacted, Australians saw their home electricity prices jump by 15%. By the time the tax was repealed the following year, it accounted for 19% of household energy costs, the study found.

Neither CarbonCapture nor Frontier Carbon Solutions responded to requests for more information on Project Bison, such as where in Wyoming the facility will be located.

Fast Company, a business publication, reported that initial costs for CO2 captured through the Project Bison system will be $600 to $700 per ton, and Corless told the publication they hope to get that figure down to $250 per ton by the end of the decade. 

On its website, CarbonCapture explains that the Project Bison air capture machines will “soak up atmospheric CO2 and release concentrated CO2 when heated. The captured CO2 is then permanently stored underground or used to make products that need clean CO2.”

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Europe Needs Coal Again, U.K. Lifts Ban On Fracking, Coal Generation In U.S. Increases

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

As natural gas prices soar ever higher, electrical coal generation is seeing an uptick as utilities try to keep energy prices low. It’s good news for Wyoming’s economy, but it’s unlikely to be sustained in the long term. 

Ceres, a sustainability advocacy nonprofit, recently released its annual report, which highlights trends in CO2 emissions in the U.S. electric power sector.

Coal electrical generation increased by 16% from 2020 while natural gas generation decreased by 3% from 2020. Coal generation accounted for 22% of U.S. electricity generation in 2021, up from 19% in 2020, the report noted. Other sources show similar increases in the same time period as the nation climbs out of the 2020 pandemic.

The big driver of the increased demand for coal is the increase in natural gas prices. Natural gas generation declined 3% after prices nearly doubled between 2020 and 2021, the Ceres report said. 

“Utilities look at which fuel is going to give them the best bang for the buck so they can provide their consumers with the lowest cost energy possible,” said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association. 

Between 2020 and 2021, natural gas production in the U.S. increased 183 terawatt hours, whereas coal production increased 255 terawatt hours, according to BP Statistical Review of World Energy and Shift Data Portal, a data hub for energy and climate statistics. The source measures production of the raw product in terms of the amount of energy it contains, as measured in terawatt hours.

“Utilities want coal right now, and we’re doing everything we can to meet that demand,” Deti said. 

Blips And Trends

While the short-term trend is promising for Wyoming’s coal mines, the longer trend is not as encouraging. The nation’s coal production peaked at 6,695 terawatt hours in 1998, putting 2021’s uptick in production half what it was in the late 1990s. 

The pandemic year of 2020 was also an outlier as health restrictions greatly lowered energy demands, so just about every energy sector is seeing some increases in 2021 over the previous year. 

University of Wyoming energy economist Robert Godby said there’s a number of factors that are keeping natural gas supplies scarce, which is creating a temporary interest in coal. 

Prior to the pandemic, the market was flooded with natural gas, which sent prices plummeting. Then, as the pandemic ripped through energy markets, petroleum was seeing negative pricing.

As a result, the major gas-producing basins, such as the Bakken in North Dakota and the Permian Basin in Texas, laid off a large portion of its workforce.

Now with prices up again, it’s not been easy to get the gas flowing again. As with all industries, natural gas producers looking to ramp up production run into supply chain issues and labor shortages.

Building a rig means a lot of steel pipe, and that’s much harder to come by than it was before 2020. The hydraulic fracturing process also needs diesel and sand, which have become more expensive. 

Lastly, there’s the workforce. Even with the high wages they offer, producers have found it difficult to entice people back to the oil fields, especially when the jobs require long hours, dangerous work, and could be very short term. 

“Producers would love to produce more, but it’s the same story we’ve seen elsewhere,” Godby said. The oil fields are “prone to booms and busts. Right now it is a boom, but the pandemic is a perfect example of a bust. Luckily, that doesn’t happen very often.” 

Drought conditions along the Colorado River have diminished output of hydroelectric, Godby said, and are also driving up demand for other sources of electrical generation. With coal being cheaper for the time being, it’s getting some more attention. 

European Crisis

Another factor keeping supplies of natural gas low is the war in Ukraine. While U.S. energy policy is pushing for the elimination of fossil fuels, to be replaced primarily by wind and solar, Europe has been pursuing a similar route but much more aggressively. 

While European nations have invested billions in wind and solar, the farms haven’t been able to free them from their dependency on natural gas. During the time Europe has built out its solar and wind portfolio, it’s shut down coal and nuclear plants, and also banned fracking that would have allowed the countries to develop their own domestic natural gas supplies. 

According to analyst Mark Mills, in a new Manhattan Institute report that analyzes the outcomes of Europe’s energy policy, the amount of energy from fossil fuels on a global level declined from 86% to 84% over the last 20 years. Currently solar and wind supply just 5%. 

Lacking its own domestic supplies and cut off from Russia, Europe has looked to the U.S. for imports of liquid natural gas. Godby noted that contributed to the scarcity in the U.S.

“It’s not a big chunk of our natural gas production, but it’s enough to really make supplies scarce,” Godby said. 

According to the Statistical Review of World Energy – BP, the gas prices in Europe between 2020 and 2021 increased three to five fold. 

Europe is also looking to coal to satisfy its energy needs in the face of crushing natural gas prices. 

Markets Insider reports, based on Rystad Energy data, that power generation using coal has shot up over 20% in France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Spain and the UK together since last year. Analysts told Markets Insider that coal could remain competitive with natural gas for the next couple of years. 

The energy crisis in Europe is having far greater impacts to its economy than we’ve seen so far in the U.S., but we’re not too far behind, warns Michael Shellenberger, author of Apocalypse Never and San Fransiko.

On his substack page, Shellenberger points to a letter from 40 CEOs of European metal companies warning that the energy shortages are an “existential threat” to their industries. Half of Europe’s aluminum and zinc capacities have already been forced offline as a result, and electricity and gas costs are over 10 times what they were last year, the CEO’s write. 

As a result of the economic pressures, Europe is having to tap coal supplies, especially as winter looms on the horizon. Likewise, the United Kingdom lifted its ban on fracking, though it will take years to develop its shale resources. 

Uncertain Future 

Godby said the U.S. is tapping into coal generation because it’s available, but the party won’t last. Many coal plants were retired and those that are running, the economist said, are operating well above their maximum capacity. 

Very few new coal plants have been built in the past couple of decades — the last in 2015 — and so these plants are nearing the end of their lifespans.

“By nearing, I mean in the next decade or less,” Godby said. 

Add to that state and regional policies set on closing coal-fired generation, and it’s hard to see last year’s coal generation increase as anything more than temporary. 

“You have those pressures and that uncertainty in the future,” Godby said. 

Deti said that as much as Wyoming coal mines want to satisfy this demand, however temporary it may be, they are facing the same challenges the oil and gas industry is facing with supply chain issues and labor shortages. 

Likewise, rail shipping issues are a big problem, and that is possibly going to get worse this week. The Washington Post reports that two unions of conductors and engineers are threatening to strike over time off policies. The other 10 unions of rail workers have stated they’ll refuse to work in solidarity, should the other two go forward with a strike. 

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While California Struggles To Keep Residents’ Power Going, Wyoming Stays Powered

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

While we’re enjoying some relief from the long stretch of heat here in Wyoming, California continues to wait for things to cool down. For the tenth day in a row, power companies in much of that state were advising consumers to conserve energy in order to avoid blackouts.

Bridger Valley Electric, a cooperative that serves Mountain View, Lyman, and other Uinta County areas of Wyoming, posted a request last week on Facebook for its customers to conserve electricity. 

Janelle Foianini, a customer service representative for the co-op, said they weren’t concerned about having enough energy for their own consumers, but with grids interconnected, the supply to others was stressed. 

“We’re just trying to do our part so we can lower the usage on the grid for everyone who is in worse shape than us,” Foianini said. 

Multiple Sources

Across Wyoming, as temperatures blazed, power companies were able to maintain a stable grid for the rural communities they serve. 

Andy Buntrock, vice president of strategic planning and communications for Basin Electric Power Cooperative, said the not-for-profit generation and transmission cooperative has not had any constraints on the 131 member cooperatives it sells power to. Those members stretch across nine western states, and 10 of them are in Wyoming towns, including Powell, Thermopolis, Sundance, Lusk, and Wheatland. They don’t sell any power to California. 

Buntrock recalled the cooperative had some blackouts in February 2021, when a severe cold snap swept through much of the West, resulting in lengthy power outages, especially in Texas. Buntrock said that when energy shortages affect large areas, sometimes they’re spread out over regional areas. As a result, some of Basin’s service areas were caught up in it. 

Lee Boughey, vice president of communications for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., said the not-for-profit cooperative power supplier has a number of options that maintain a reliable grid. 

“We’re able to draw on a multitude of resources to ensure we have what our members need to keep the lights on,” Boughey said. 

The 70-year-old cooperative includes 42 electrical distribution cooperatives and public power districts in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. Altogether, about 1 million power consumers get their electricity from Tri-State. 

As of the end of 2021, their energy generation mix is 42% coal, 15% hydroelectric, 19% wind and solar, and 7% oil and gas.They also purchase about 17% through purchase powers agreements and other contracts with a variety of generation sources. 

Generation sources fluctuate for a variety of reasons, including availability and pricing, so these numbers are rough estimates. Boughey noted that they added additional wind this year, so that portion of the portfolio has grown. 

This diversity of sources, Boughey said, maintains a reliable grid for their consumers. 

With “the broader western grid, there are concerns about resource adequacy,” Boughey said, but Tri-State’s system is “long on resources” and in a “solid position to be able to supply” its members with adequate power.

Planning Ahead

Along with Basin Electric, Tri-State was caught up in the winter storm in February 2021. Natural gas demand had stretched supplies very thin at the time, but Boughey said Tri-State had some options that kept the heat going for consumers of the cooperatives and power districts it serves. 

“One of the things that we were able to do was switch our natural gas peaking plants in Colorado … over to fuel oil. That helped us to be able to maintain power production and not suffer through the increased costs of natural gas,” Boughey said. 

In the past couple years, Boughey noted, Tri-State has reduced wholesale costs by 4 percent. 

Besides the heat, drought is impacting electrical generation along the Colorado River, which provides an enormous amount of hydroelectric power across the West, including Tri-State. 

“With the drought on the Colorado River system, we’ve seen the energy that’s been available from the Colorado River projects decreased by about a third,” Boughey said. 

Even in an extreme scenario where the drought got so bad that hydroelectric dams along the river could no longer provide power, Boughey said Tri-State could draw on enough sources to maintain grid reliability and keep costs down. 

Tri-State, Boughey said, is continuing to network across the West with multiple utilities and transmission providers to operate a reliable and affordable grid.

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Environmental Groups’ Lawsuit Could Hold Up Enormous Oil And Gas Project in Converse County

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The approval of a large oil and gas project in Converse County involving 5,000 oil and gas wells in an area roughly the size of Laramie County is facing legal challenges from conservation groups. 

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, along with the Western Watersheds Project, filed the lawsuit this week in the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia, against the Bureau of Land Management, arguing the BLM approved the project in the “waning days of the Trump Administration” without properly applying the federal land use plan. The plan is supposed to guarantee wildlife protections. The approval also didn’t properly consider impacts to air quality and the natural landscape, the suit alleges. 

The BLM is “giving oil and gas drillers a free pass on things like timing stipulations for birds of prey and disturbance caps for sage grouse, [which] is just going to lead to the depopulation of the native wildlife in northeastern Wyoming,” said Erik Molvar, executive director of the Western Watersheds Project. 

In a statement on the suit, Molvar, who is also a biologist, said the BLM “fast-tracked” approval and, and he warned that sage grouse populations are “nearing an extinction vortex.” 

Industry Collaboration

Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said the project is “vitally important” for the oil and gas industry in the state. 

“One only has to look at the rig count and the fact the majority of rigs drilling the state are in Converse County, so a lawsuit of this nature is really a hit,” McConnaughey said. 

McConnaughey disputed the plaintiffs’ claim that the approval was done too rapidly. The environmental impact statement (EIS), which federal law requires for developments on public lands, took seven years to complete.

The association is attempting to create good partnerships with federal agencies, McConnaughey said, and the EIS for the Converse County project was crafted through the Obama and Trump administrations, in full compliance with federal protections for migratory birds. 

The association “would classify this as the poster child for carefully thought-out collaborative work,” McConnaughey said. 

Unprecedented Development

The lawsuit, however, argues the protections are not there. The project area contains designated Priority Habitat Management Areas for sage grouse, including all 54 “leks,” or sage grouse dancing and breeding sites, which the BLM acknowledges could be abandoned as a result of the drilling and production, according to a statement on the suit. 

The lawsuit states that many of the wells in the project area are “fee/fee/fed” wells, which are drilled directionally into federal minerals from pads on adjacent non-federal lands. The suit alleges that since the BLM claims to lack jurisdiction to regulate the surface operations associated with these wells, “much of the Converse County Project is being improperly exempted from critical environmental protections.”

The suit also claims that the BLM is not giving enough consideration to the impact of traffic on local residents, which will face road deterioration and dust issues. The traffic will also further impact wildlife as a result of collisions. 

“This unprecedented level of development will create significant negative impacts in our county that have not been well addressed during previous booms,” said  Maria Katherman, Powder River Basin Resource Council board member and long-time resident of Converse County, in a statement announcing the suit. 

Political Strategy

McConnaughey said the suit is an example of how the courts are being used by groups whose main motivation is to stop oil and gas production on federal lands. 

“The people who don’t want to see any drilling on public lands, when they have a favorable administration, all they need to do is just file a lawsuit to stop all activity,” he said. “This will continue to be a hallmark of their strategy.” 

McConnaughey said the industry is hoping for a quick resolution to the matter, but he isn’t sure if or how long the suit could prevent the project from proceeding. 

“It just all depends on the motions and the court case as it goes through the process,” he said, adding that the suit “will be a big a big hit to those that have spent countless years and countless amounts of money shepherding this process.”

The entire project is one of the largest oil and gas projects ever approved in Wyoming, according to the lawsuit. In addition to the production of oil and gas after wellsite completions, the project will include the construction of approximately 2,900 miles of new pipelines, 1,970 miles of access roads, 1,500 miles of electrical lines, 455 other pads, and additional supporting structures and infrastructure. 

“Fundamentally, the agency is writing a 5000-well blank check without really looking at where the wells and pipelines and roads are going to go. And that’s not responsible planning and management of industrial development at all,” Molvar said. 

According to Baker Hughes, Wyoming’s rig count was 20 this week, up two from last year.

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Oil Industry Group Will Appeal Federal Ruling Impacting Lease Sales in Wyoming

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The Western Energy Alliance on Thursday said it will appeal a federal court ruling that upheld the legality of postponed lease sales on federal land, according to Aaron Johnson, vice president for public affairs for the regional trade association. 

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Wyoming ruled last week that a pause on federal lease sales in the first quarter of 2021, in order to complete a review of environmental impacts from the sales, was legal and consistent with decisions in other cases. 

“In short, the administrative record supports that postponing the first-quarter 2021 lease sales was done to ensure NEPA [the National Environmental Policy Act] compliance with several then-recent federal court opinions that negated previously authorized oil and gas lease sales,” Skavdahl said in the order. 

Western Energy Alliance joined the Wyoming Petroleum Association and the State of Wyoming in challenging the delayed leases, arguing the Department of Interior’s decision to postpone the sales violated a number of federal laws, including the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, which requires the federal government to hold quarterly lease sales in every state “where eligible lands are available.”

In his decision, Skavdahl cited the administrative record in defending the department determining that the lands were not “available” because “additional analysis was needed to ensure compliance with NEPA.” 

The larger concern for the ruling, industry representatives have said, is that it will be possible for the Bureau of Land Management to delay federal leasing indefinitely while environmental reviews are considered.

“We’re seeing in Washington, the problem in environmental reviews being dragged down for excessively long periods, whether that’s for oil and gas projects, or renewable projects, or any construction projects,” Johnson with the Western Energy Alliance said. 

Melissa Hornbein, senior attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, said any appeal is going to be difficult. The law center, along with Earthjustice, represented 21 environmental groups who intervened in the case in support of the department’s decision to postpone the lease sales. 

Skavdahl had ruled that the plaintiff’s had no right to sue due to the timing of when their suits were filed and when official decisions were made to delay lease sales. Only the State of Wyoming had standing in the case of the first-quarter 2021 lease sales, Skavdahl said, and then he rejected the state’s arguments concerning those leases.

“From our perspective, his decision … upheld the long standing line of precedent that says that the Department of Interior has a lot of discretion when it decides what lands are available for federal fluid mineral leasing,” Horbein said. 

Neither the Petroleum Association of Wyoming nor the state have decided if they will appeal Skavdahl’s decision. Michael Pearlman, spokesperson for Gov. Mark Gordon, and Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the association, said they are still reviewing the case. 

Besides pursuing legal avenues, Johnson said the Western Energy Alliance will continue to pursue legislative reform of the NEPA review process so that it isn’t, as the alliance argues, used by environmental groups as a tool to stop development.

“I think they’ve been clear about what their goal is … They want to keep it [fossil fuels] in the ground,” Johnson said.

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High Winds Spark Fire In ‘Boneyard’ Outside Eagle Butte Mine In Gillette

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

High winds toppled powerlines Thursday morning, sparking a grass fire outside the Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette.

Firefighters with the Campbell County Fire Department responded to a grass fire along Highway 14-16 near the Eagle Butte Mine shortly after 1 a.m. Thursday, according to a department press release. The responders observed a fast-moving grass fire, and the Campbell County Sheriff’s Office closed the highway due to the reduced visibility from the smoke. 

Driven by “strong, erratic” winds, the fire spread across the mine property, electrical power poles, and six passenger pickup trucks there were parked in an equipment parking area. 

Eagle Butte Mine Manager Dan Baker said the trucks were just some “old junkers” that were “in a boneyard type place.” 

Baker said there were no injuries, and about 200 acres of grass on reclaimed land had been burned. 

It took firefighters about two hours to contain the fire. They determined it was caused by a downed, arcing power line. 

Baker said winds were approximately 50 mph at the time the fire started. 

The department press release said that, besides the sheriff’s office, 15 firefighters, one chief, and mine personnel responded to the incident. Baker gave most of the credit for the response to the fire department, adding that no mine equipment was used to contain the fire.

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University Of Wyoming Breaks Ground On Coal Product Demonstration Project

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

The University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources (SER), Wood PLC and Atlas Carbon LLC broke ground on the site of a coal refinery project near Gillette. The facility will be a pilot project to further the goal of processing coal into products that are used in building products and soil additives in agriculture. 

“Even as we work to protect the existing markets, it is encouraging to see the SER-led team innovate a process that could unlock new markets for Wyoming coal and support the diversification of the economy,” said Randall Luthi, the chief energy adviser to Gov. Mark Gordon, in an announcement on the groundbreaking. 

Concerns over CO2 emissions and competition from natural gas have diminished demand for coal in the past several years, the state has been looking for ways to use coal other than for burning it for electrical generation and industrial heating. 

In 2016, the Wyoming Legislature appropriated funding to the SER to begin researching ways to utilize coal as something other than a thermal resource, and to date, the state has invested more than $30 million on such projects. 

The thermochemical process technology that will be used at the demonstration site was developed by the university’s Center for Carbon Capture and Conversion (CCCC). 

Trina Pfeiffer, director of the CCCC, explained that this refinery is a pyrolysis unit that burns off the volatile matter, leaving behind mostly carbon.The decomposed coal yields liquids and solids — called intermediate products — which are then used to create non-energy products — called downstream products. This is similar to how oil is refined into gasoline, a downstream product. 

These coal-derived products include building materials, such as bricks and insulation. 

In the summer of 2021, the CCCC produced 4,000 coal-derived char bricks. The bricks were used to construct a house for a separate demonstration project, which broke ground last spring. The tiny home was constructed next to another constructed of conventional clay bricks. 

The demonstration found that, compared to conventional materials, the coal-derived materials are lighter, provide better insulation, and are more moisture resistant than their clay counterparts. 

The coal materials are also dried in the sun, whereas clay requires red hot kilns. This difference not only reduces emissions in the production of building materials, but reduces costs, making the products cheaper than clay. 

Of course, building a house of coal might seem like a fire disaster waiting to happen, but the material was rated the highest possible for fire safety — Class A — by QAI Laboratories, a testing and certification company out of California, Pfeiffer said. 

The Powell Research Extension Center north of Powell is experimenting with the use of coal-derived carbon products in sugar beet production, and the university is conducting experiments with the materials on corn at the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center near Lingle. 

According to the university, these soil amendments, as they’re called, are materials that are added to the soil to improve its physical or chemical properties. The coal-derived product provides a new, nonthermal and a potentially high-volume use for Wyoming coal while promoting increased crop yields, improving soil fertility and retaining moisture in a sustainable way. 

In the crop trials in Powell and Lingle, the coal-derived materials are compared to biochar, which is carbon and ashes from biomass in a pyrolysis process like the coal char. Initial experiments are proving promising. 

“We observed the coal char noticeably improved organic content of the soil, where biochar did not to the same level,” said Resham Thapa, who is a Ph.D. candidate working at the Powell location. 

While these trials are promising, there’s a bridge that must be crossed between research and commercial production. So, it remains to be seen if these products begin making headway in commercial markets, but that is the CCCC’s hope. 

“As a Wyoming energy-focused research entity, our ultimate goal is to invent and demonstrate technologies that can be transferred to industry partners that make those technologies a commercial reality,” said SER Executive Director Holly Krutk.

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Wyoming Energy Company Tells Customers To Conserve Power

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

 When California’s grid supplier asked California residents to conserve electricity last week, a Wyoming power company was asking the same of its Wyoming customers.  

The reason in both cases was the same: there isn’t enough power during peak times to supply Western states’ electricity demands during a record-setting heat wave.   

California’s conservation warning came days after the state announced a 2035 mandatory switch away from most gas-powered vehicles. Wyoming has no similar legislation.     

Bridger Valley Electric, which serves Mountain View, Lyman, and other Uinta County areas, posted Thursday to its Facebook page that it was “encouraging members to conserve power usage” from 1-8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.    

The conservation effort was “due to the heat event in the Western states,” the post continues. “This will relieve stress on the power grid and help with a lack of generation capacity.”    

Neither Bridger Valley Electric nor its generator, Deseret Power, responded Wednesday morning to phone calls seeking comment. Deseret Power serves a portion of Wyoming, along with Utah and Nevada, according to its website.    

‘We Can Do This’   

The California Independent System Operator, a grid operator serving 80% of California, warned residents of the state last week to conserve power over the weekend. That warning has now been extended through Wednesday.    

California Gov. Gavin Newsom also took to Twitter to ask Californians to conserve power to avoid outages.    

“Record-breaking temperatures. More demand on our energy grid than ever before. But we avoided emergency power outages tonight. We can do this. If we keep it up we can get through this unprecedented heatwave,” wrote Newsom in a Tuesday post to Twitter.    

‘Drill Baby Drill’   

Newsom’s urging has faced backlash nationwide, as it comes days after California approved the governor’s executive order demanding that most vehicles be non-gasoline-powered by 2035.    

“California, which will soon mandate you can only buy electric vehicles, is currently having rolling blackouts because their power grid can’t fulfill demand,” wrote conservative commentator and attorney Clay Travis on his Twitter account. “What happens when people can’t plug in their cars? The green new deal is a complete and total joke. Drill baby drill.”    

Newsom on Wednesday countered the backlash in a press conference live-streamed to Youtube.com. He said California’s battery-storage and other grid conservation efforts have helped to prevent rolling blackouts this week that would otherwise have occurred.  

“We now are fast-tracking the delivery of these projects… and that gives me much more confidence that we can meet the ambitious goals as we move to 2035.”  

The Threshold   

Of cars on the road nationwide, about 6% are electric, Tiffany Erickson, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Power, told Cowboy State Daily last week.    

Rocky Mountain Power is another power company, which serves urban areas in Wyoming.    

Erickson said the company, which serves Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming, is not expecting to have the same supply problems as California’s other power companies have reported amid the heat. 

She also estimated that the grid nationwide could handle up to 50% saturation of electric vehicles across the car population. Between 16-18% of vehicles in California are electric right now, she said. 

“Beyond that (50%) threshold, we’re planning a number of programs and initiatives like demand response and smart-grid technologies, that will build in some flexibility into the grid, so we’ll be able to support beyond that,” said Erickson.  “We will be ready once we do hit that threshold.”    

Demand response programs encourage consumers to use less electricity during high-demand hours, when generators also charge more for electricity per unit.    

Two Rocky Mountain Power programs operating in Utah, but not Wyoming, include the Wattsmart and Cool-Keeper programs. The Wattsmart program allows consumers to install power-storing batteries, that store extra power during low-usage hours to be spent during the high-usage hours of 4-10 p.m.    

The Cool-Keeper program allows consumers to have governing devices installed on their air conditioners, so that the power company can turn off their air conditioners for a few minutes at a time during high-use phases, such as heat waves.  

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Wyoming Power Companies Not Locking People Out Of Thermostats, Companies Say

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

Wyoming’s major electricity provider areas does not lock people out of their thermostats during heat waves, the company said last week.  

But Rocky Mountain Power does have an opt-in, incentivized program by which the company can shut off home air-conditioning units for a few minutes at a time, Tiffany Erickson, the company’s spokeswoman, told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. That program has not yet come to Wyoming but is active in Utah.    

The company’s voluntary “Cool-Keeper” conservation program is not the same as a smart-thermostat program that locked thousands of Colorado thermostats last week amid record-high temperatures, said Erickson. 

Energy customers in Colorado last week took to social media to condemn Xcel Energy – a different company serving Colorado – for using its own version of an air-conditioning shutdown program during a heat wave, Fox Business reported.    

“Xcel Energy pointed out that the customers were part of a rewards program that gave them a discount on their energy bill in exchange for permission to give the company some control over their smart thermostats,” according to Fox Business.    

‘Goodness No’   

About a decade ago, Rocky Mountain Power launched its “Cool-Keeper” program in Utah. Grid customers signing up for the program have a control unit installed in their air conditioners in exchange for a $30 annual bonus.    

During peak energy-usage hours and possible grid strain, Rocky Mountain Power may shut off the cooling unit in people’s air conditioners for a few minutes at a time to lighten the energy demand, said Erickson. The fan may still circulate air.

Erickson said Rocky Mountain Power does not control people’s thermostats.   

“Oh goodness no,” she said. “We don’t do that.”    

Rocky Mountain Power’s Cool-Keeper device is installed in a home’s air conditioner. According to the company’s website, the device can be activated between May 1 and Sept. 30 annually, and between 2 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the day, for a grand total of no more than 100 hours per year; and it cannot be activated on weekends or holidays. 

These limits don’t apply if there’s a “system emergency,” the site says.    

“In the event of a system emergency, Rocky Mountain Power may, at its discretion, expand the (shutdown) criteria beyond the parameters listed,” it says.    

Erickson said the company usually shuts people’s air conditioners down for between 11 and 15 minutes at a time.    

“We did a survey last fall and there’s quite a few customers that didn’t even notice when those activations took place,” said Erickson. “But it’s essentially an incentive for helping use energy wisely. We’re asking customers to kind of participate in that effort for efficiency, and then they receive that monthly bill credit” totaling $30 per year.  

Although the program is not yet available in Wyoming, Erickson said this and other conservation programs are being developed and encouraged to mitigate grid strain, especially as the electric vehicle market grows.    

Rocky Mountain Power delivers electricity to many of Wyoming’s urban regions, along with Utah and Idaho. Its parent company Pacificorp also serves Washington and Oregon.   

Cooperative   

Most rural Wyoming areas are served by smaller energy cooperatives which buy their power from larger generators such as Deseret Power or Tri-State.    

High Plains Power does not control people’s thermostats from the outside, Jon Mayes, chief financial officer of the company told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday.    

High Plains Power serves large rural areas throughout Central Wyoming.    

“We don’t have a thermostat program right now,” said Mayes, noting that the company still is contemplating different “management demand response programs,” that is, programs that discourage power use during the expensive and high-usage afternoon hours.    

The programs are appealing because they save co-op members money, said Mayes.    

“We’re kind of exploring right now,” he said. For example, the company is considering an electric-vehicle charging rate that is lower during off-peak, or non-afternoon hours.  

During the peak hours of 4:30-9:30 p.m., most residents’ power usage peaks and, with that high demand, High Plains Power’s generator, Tri-State, also charges more money for power during those times.    

The goal is to determine “what are some ways we can encourage people to reduce electricity here (peak hours) but increase it somewhere else?” said Mayes. “If we can get you to use (power) off-peak… we can save money” throughout the co-op.     

Black Hills   

Although largely marketed as a natural-gas supplier, Black Hills Energy’s electric utility also supplies electricity in Wyoming, according to the company’s website.    

Laurie Farkas, spokeswoman for Black Hills energy, told Cowboy State Daily in a Tuesday email that the company has no thermostat-governing conservation program in Wyoming.    

A fourth Wyoming power company, Bridger Valley Electric Association, did not immediately return a voicemail requesting comment.  

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Judge Rejects Oil, Gas Industry, Rules Biden Postponement Of Leases In Wyoming Was Legal

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By Kevin Killough, energy reporter
Kevin@CowboyStateDaily.com

U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl of Wyoming rejected oil-industry court challenges on Friday, upholding that the Biden administration legally postponed federal lease sales scheduled for the first quarter of 2021.

The federal ruling could have far-reaching impacts on the future of federal oil and gas lease sales.

Due to the timing of the filing of the lawsuit by its plaintiffs, the judge’s ruling did not consider the delays on second-quarter lease sales. 

Shortly after taking office, President Joe Biden issued a nationwide moratorium temporarily pausing federal oil and gas lease sales. The goal of the review was to allow the Bureau of Land Management to further consider potential environmental impacts from the sales. 

The U.S. Department of the Interior paused lease sales in the first two quarters of 2021 after the executive order was issued, and the State of Wyoming joined with the Western Energy Alliance, a regional trade association, and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, in challenging the delayed sales. 

Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, called the ruling “really disappointing” and “incredibly frustrating for the industry.” He said the ruling was in line with what anti-oil and -gas special interests were expecting from the administration. 

“The ruling gives President Biden another arrow in his quiver to end oil and natural gas development on federal lands,” McConnaughey said. 

McConnaughey said the ruling will allow the Bureau of Land Management to indefinitely delay lease sales while environmental reviews are conducted, with no mechanism to hold the agency to any deadlines. 

The decision, he added, could cause ambiguity in what goals and objectives need to be met in the environmental reviews to allow lease sales to proceed. He said this uncertainty will be used to impede development on public lands. 

“We don’t have a good answer to that, and I think that’s by design,” McConnaughey said. 

For environmental groups, the ruling was a victory. Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said it will facilitate better decision making from federal agencies. 

“What it [Skavdahl’s decision] will do is give the agency time to adequately review the oil and gas leasing program, and make sure it will have the terms and conditions that are important to protect communities, people, public lands, and the environment,” Anderson said. 

Anderson disputed that the decision would result in indefinite delays. She said lease sales were held last June, and operators hold 13 million acres of leases on public lands — though she noted there are separate legal challenges to those June sales. 

Most mineral rights in other states, such as North Dakota, are held privately, making it easier for oil and gas production to proceed without federal involvement. That’s not the case in Wyoming. With Wyoming’s reliance on federal lands for oil and gas development, the ruling would have a “significant impact,” McConnaughey said. 

Besides the legal challenges holding up development on existing leases, McConnaughey said, there are a number of other difficulties that prevent acres from being developed. 

The ruling will eventually impact all operators in the state, McConnaughey warned, but the first and hardest to be impacted are small operators, which make up the majority of those producing in Wyoming.

These small players don’t have the capital for large multi-year outlays for development, so they need those quarterly lease sales to keep operating. When those existing leases are done it will be difficult or impossible for those companies to keep operating.

“They’ll be in a world of hurt when they can’t get new leases from the federal government,” McConnaughey said. 

Skavdahl’s ruling determined, since the Department of Interior had made no final determination to postpone the second-quarter lease sales when the industry groups filed their petitions in the first quarter of 2021, they had no standing to claim the department was wrong to postpone those sales. 

Skavdahl said only Wyoming had standing to challenge the department’s first-quarter lease sales since the state filed its lawsuit following the official postponement of the first-quarter sales. 

In its suit, Wyoming had argued the department’s postponement violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, arguments Skavdahl rejected. In the order, the judge said there’s plenty of evidence that, in light of several recent court decisions, the initial environmental reviews for the proposed lease sales wouldn’t hold up to legal scrutiny and further review would be needed. 

These other cases, Skavdahl said in his order, “created a cloud over the sufficiency of many of the existing environmental assessments.” 

McConnaughey said this means that the issues won’t be resolved without Congress fixing the process. The goal of NEPA, he explained, was to foster “safe and sustainable development, rather than shutting development down completely.” 

Anderson said the ruling doesn’t end federal lease sales and will ultimately clarify agency authority to manage resources sustainably. 

“This case was really about BLM’s authority. And it really did affirm that the agency has discretion when and how it should proceed with oil and gas leasing, which is really important, because they’re the manager of the public’s resources,” Anderson said. 

McConnaughey said the association, the state, and industry partners are still reviewing the ruling and haven’t decided on whether or not to appeal the decision. 

“Stay tuned,” he said.

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Mike Pence Speaks In Cheyenne; Big On Trump Record But No Praise of Trump

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By Leo Wolfson, political reporter
Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com

Former Republican Vice President Mike Pence made his thoughts clear about the role he played during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in a speech in Cheyenne on Thursday, reflecting on the moment as a “tragic” day.  

“My duty was clear that day and I’ll always believe in my heart of hearts that I did my duty that day,” he said. 

Pence has been a target of some Republicans for his refusal to follow through on former President Donald Trump’s demands that Pence not certify the 2020 presidential election results. As Vice President, it was Pence’s job to certify the results of the election after the U.S. House and Senate gave their approval. 

Trump criticized Pence for taking this action.

Chants of “hang Mike Pence” rang out from the mob during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot as Pence was rushed into an underground bunker below the Capitol. 

Pence, a former governor and U.S. representative from Indiana, spoke at the Petroleum Association of Wyoming’s (PAW) Rockies Petroleum Conference Thursday afternoon at Little America Hotel and Resort.

Although speaking positively about the accomplishments of the Trump Administration, Pence never directly complimented the former president. There is speculation Pence may run against Trump for the Republican nomination in the 2024 presidential election.  

Wyoming Republican U.S. Senators Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso also spoke at the Thursday event. Lummis told Cowboy State Daily that Pence did the right thing on Jan. 6, despite voting to overturn the Pennsylvania election results herself. She, like the former vice president, was rushed into the underground bunker when the certification of the Arizona election ballots was interrupted. 

“His role that day was not to intervene, but to simply preside over the process of certifying electors,” Lummis said. “He performed his constitutional duties within the confines of his authority with complete grace and skill under very difficult circumstances.” 

No mention of U.S. House Republican nominee Harriet Hageman was made during the event. Hageman has been endorsed by Trump and reiterated his claims that the 2020 election was rigged. 

Lummis said when Trump chose Pence as his Vice President, to her, it proved to her that the former president had “good judgment.” She described Pence as an honest and trustworthy leader and complimented him for helping the Republicans win back the U.S. House, Senate and Presidency while he was a U.S. representative.  

Pence returned the compliment and described Lummis as one of the most principled members of the U.S. Senate.  

Lummis said if Trump had chosen Pence to be the White House’s spokesperson for addressing the coronavirus pandemic instead of Dr. Anthony Fauci, Trump would have got reelected. 

Energy 

Pence spent most of his speech discussing high gas prices and the upcoming midterm elections.  

Although gas prices have dropped in the recent month, they are still 64% higher than when President Joe Biden took office. Pence spoke against Russian President Vladimir Putin but said Putin can’t be blamed for America’s high gas prices.  

Pence is confident most citizens agree with Republican energy policies and that the GOP will experience success in the November midterms, adding America is 75 days away from “achieving energy independence.” He summarized his and other Republicans’ energy policies as “government, get out of the way.” 

“What has made us the shining city on the hill, has been our faith, our freedom and our vast natural resources,” he told the supportive oil and gas industry audience. 

He said no other group aside from law enforcement, has received more harsh criticism than people who work in the oil and gas industry.  

“The vast majority of Americans are grateful for the work of the people in the oil and gas industry everyday,” he said. 

Pence said he couldn’t be prouder to have been vice president of what he described as the most pro-energy administration in American history. Under Trump, for the first time in 75 years, the U.S. had a net-positive energy export rate. 

The Trump Administration removed the country from the Paris Climate Accords and the former President Barack Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Some saw these agreements as compromises made between the energy industry and environmentalists to address climate change. 

 Pence said the Democrats have been overtaken by a radical climate change agenda sparked by the left wing of the party.  

“This is a man-made economic disaster and it’s all intentional,” he said. 

Pence said Obama wanted to make the prices of traditional energy so high that it would force people into using renewable energy. Although Pence said he supports green energy, he explained America needs an “all of the above energy strategy,” a phrase Gov. Mark Gordon has used on numerous occasions and Barrasso also mentioned. 

Pence also criticized environmental credit scores and local bans on natural gas as part of an agenda to weaken America that is unfair because other world powers are not implementing them. 

If Republicans take the Senate, Barrasso is expected to be chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. 

Barrasso complimented the Trump Administration for its energy policies. He said under Biden, one would never know the U.S. is an energy superpower. 

“We have an administration that is at war with American energy,” he said. 

The Biden Administration has put in place several moratoriums on federal oil and gas leases and aggressive policies to fight climate change.  

Outgoing Wyoming State Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, also spoke, claiming Wyoming is a better environmental steward than the rest of the world.  

“I don’t think we get enough credit for that,” he said. 

 According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Wyoming had the highest per capita carbon dioxide emissions in 2019, at 102 metric tons per person. Pence said over the last 20 years, U.S. gross domestic product has risen 25% while emissions have dropped by 27%.   

Intimate Experiences 

Pence moved home to Indiana after the 2020 election. He mentioned humbling aspects about the experience, such as waiting 25 minutes to eat at Olive Garden. 

“One of the great things about no longer about being vice president is you get to drive your own car, the bad thing is you have to pay for your own gas,” he joked. 

Pence described Wyoming as “such a cool place,” calling it emblematic of freedom and the American dream. 

Lummis spoke of her experience working with Rick Robitaille, former head of PAW and a leader within Wyoming’s oil and gas industry, describing him as a ‘prince of a guy.’ Robitaille passed away on Saturday. 

Lummis said Robitaille helped recruit people from the energy industry to help teach lawmakers about important issues.  

“He will be sorely missed,” she said. 

Pence complimented Barrasso for helping usher in the three conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices approved during the Trump Administration. 

“Thank you for sending Senator Barrasso to our nation’s Capital,” Pence said. “Just send Senator Barrasso and Senator Lummis back to a Republican majority in 2023.” 

Greear said there is a lot of concern among citizens about how much turnover occurred in the Wyoming Legislature with the recent primary election but said there is “no need to panic.” He encouraged the public to educate new legislators about the legislative process and to tell them “slow and steady wins the race.” 

“Change is always inevitable, just make sure it’s predictable,” he said.

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Petroleum Association:  Development of Billion-Barrel Wyoming Oil Reserve Possible But Challenging

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By Joshua Wood, Cowboy State Daily
josh@cowboystatedaily.com

Gaining access to a billion-barrel oil reserve discovered in Wyoming won’t be impossible, but it may be improbable according to an oil and gas industry representative.

Last week, Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited announced it had confirmed the presence of a 993-million barrel oil reserve in Natrona and Converse counties.

Ryan McConnaughey, Vice President and Director of Communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said the billion-barrel oil reserve would be “a massive deal for the state of Wyoming.”

“If this reserve is proven to be true and they have actually found a billion barrels of oil, that would more than double the proven reserve of oil and gas in Wyoming,” said McConnaughey. “It would be significant.”

As significant as the reserve would be for Wyoming, McConnaughey said there could be hurdles from the federal government. A significant amount of land in both Natrona and Converse counties is owned by the federal government. Additionally, more than half of the mineral estates in Wyoming are owned by the federal government.

“Given the area that this discovery is reported to be in, being heavily in both federal surface lands and federal mineral estates, the ability of companies to extract that is going to be very highly dependent on regulations that we see coming out at the federal level,” said McConnaughey.

A friendly administration that sees the importance of domestic energy production would mean the state could see a high return of investment on the find, said McConnaughey. Hostile administrations such as President Joe Biden’s, would drastically reduce that return.

When announcing the discovery, Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited said it would be drilling three Frontier wells with two of them being horizontal. If the federal government isn’t willing to give drilling operations the go ahead on federal land, the company could potentially find a parcel of private land to set up and drill horizontally to the reserve.

McConnaughey said while horizontal drilling a well to the reserve could be possible, but difficult as the federal government owns 70% of the mineral estate in Wyoming.

“If the company has the ability to drill a horizontal well somewhere that is all on private or state lands, then they’d be able to do that without federal interference,” said McConnaughey. “Given the significant ownership of federal land and, specifically, federal mineral estate in Wyoming I think that’ll be very difficult to do.”

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Billion Barrel Oil Reserve Discovery Confirmed In Central Wyoming

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By Joshua Wood, Cowboy State Daily
Josh@CowboyStateDaily.com

The confirmation of a newly-discovered oilfield in Wyoming that could top one billion barrels has a state senator in Wyoming cautiously excited about its prospects.

Last Friday’s news that Canadian Overseas Petroleum Limited confirmed the presence of a 993 million- barrel oil reserve in Natrona and Converse counties has Wyoming State Senator Ogden Driskill (R-Devils Tower) comparing it to the massive Bakken oil reserve in North Dakota.

It could be huge for the state, Driskill said, but the benefit depends on what President Biden’s “anti-oil administration allows,” as most of the land is likely on federal property.

“It’s huge, if they permit it. That’s nearly a billion barrels of oil, it’d be pretty close to a Bakken (oil field) and, if it is, it’s probably very altering for Wyoming,” Driskill said. “We get a pretty good chunk of money out of that.”

The Bakken Formation occupies about 200,000 square miles beneath parts of Montana and North Dakota in the United States and Saskatchewan and Manitoba in Canada. The formation was discovered in 1953.  A United States Geological Survey study conducted in 1999 estimated the reserve ranged from 271 to 503 billion barrels of oil.

Driskill said how much this new find will help Wyoming depends on how fast it can be developed and the location of the reserve.

“It’s substantial money. It depends on how fast they develop it,” Driskill said. “Of course, the rigs are available. It depends how much of it is on federal ground and how much of it is federal minerals and what the Biden Administration does to us because they have not been very forthcoming with helping with energy development.”

Driskill said the more of the reserve that is on federal land instead of state land, the more developers will depend on cooperation from the federal government, which is his prime worry.

“I think it’s a pretty awesome spot but there’s just piles of federal ground through that part of central Wyoming,” Driskill said. “The company seems very confident that their reserves are proven and they’re proven by a means that’s solid. We’re probably hinging very hard on the federal government issuing permits and taking care of us.”

Optimism Despite Biden

The oil company’s CEO and president expressed optimism despite the Biden administration’s track record in dealing with the oil and gas industry.

“This independent Report validates what we announced at the start of the year and highlights the significant potential of our fantastic Wyoming asset,” Arthur Millholland said.

“We expect to see further exploration upside in due course once our drilling program gets under way in the coming months,” he said.

The company said it plans to drill three Frontier wells in the final quarter of this year with two of them being horizontal wells.

Driskill said, if developed, the oil reserve will put “Wyoming back up there” in terms of oil-producing states.

“That’s really a positive deal and it’s always welcome when our energy industry comes through,” Driskill said.

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Hawaii Says No Coal Allowed; Receives Final Shipment Of Coal Last Week

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com

Hawaii received its last shipment of coal last week, but Wyoming’s coal industry isn’t affected, according to an industry expert.    

“Good luck to them,” said Travis Deti, executive director of Wyoming Mining Association.   

Hawaii hasn’t been a big player in Wyoming’s coal industry, said Deti. They’re also not the first to make the shift. However, the move is troubling as an indicator of the longterm trend of utilities and lawmakers shunning coal, he added.  

Two decades ago coal provided roughly 50% of the nation’s energy and now supplies less than half as much, he noted.  

“We used to ship coal to roughly 37 or 36 states. We’re down to about 27 states right now,” Deti said.     

‘For Our Planet’   

“This week Hawaii is receiving its final shipment of coal,” wrote Hawaii Gov. David Ige on his official Twitter page July 28. “This is a huge step forward in Hawaii’s transition to clean energy.”   

Ige thanked the workers who ran the state’s last remaining coal plant, saying it was an important resource for Hawaii “in its time.”    

He said renewable energy projects are “coming online with more on the way” despite challenges during the transition.    

“It’s the right move for our communities and planet,” Ige wrote.   

There were multiple expressions of gratitude among commenters on Twitter, such as “Thank you!” and “well done.”   

Others were not impressed.    

“Get ready for high electricity bills. What are we replacing it with?” tweeted a user titled “Aloha State Freedom.”    

“Soon to be Australia Part II,” tweeted a user named “CaptainRiker.” The man attached a June 23 Bloomberg.com story reflecting on Australia’s power market shutdowns earlier in June following spiking global demands for natural gas and the country’s neglected coal infrastructure.    

Short-Term ‘Pretty Strong’   

The natural gas price hikes, the war in Ukraine, and an electric-vehicle push in America could help Wyoming and other coal producers in the short-term, said Deti.    

When utilities over the past 10 or 15 years have sworn off coal incrementally, they did so amid low natural gas prices – about $2 per Metric Million British thermal unit (MMBtu).   

Today, natural gas is $7.70 per MMBtu.    

“That’s a tremendous price hike,” said Deti, adding that higher natural gas prices could make coal more attractive to utility companies as an alternate power source. Wyoming coal is priced at about $13.50 per ton, which is a competitive price for the market, he said.  

Another factor favoring coal is the Russia-Ukraine war, Deti said. Some European countries reliant on Russian natural gas are facing threatened grid reliability as the war and its international tensions continue. Poland, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Denmark and Finland all face natural gas shortages from Russia amid payment quarrels, and numerous European Union countries have had their Russian gas supply cut as well, Reuters reported in June. 

Then there’s President Joe Biden’s push to switch Americans from gas-fueled to electric cars.    

“As we make this dramatic transition – as the president calls it – to electric vehicles, something is going to have to provide that electricity. And wind and solar just can’t do it,” said Deti, theorizing that coal could answer the demand new electric vehicles would place on the power grid.   

“The short-term outlook for Wyoming coal is pretty strong,” he said.    

Dead Ports 

But producers in Wyoming don’t have good exportation prospects, Deti said.   

The producers ship out of a Vancouver port, which, Deti said, is too expensive to export large volumes often.Coastal ports in Oregon and Washington shut coal out in recent years, squashing Wyoming exports to areas like Asia where the demand remains high.    

Wyoming and Montana sued Washington over its denial of permitting for coal port projects, but the U.S. Supreme Court last June declined to hear the suit when the coal-project developer, Lighthouse Resources, went bankrupt.   

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Despite COVID, Biden Announces Billions In Climate Spending, Mentions Wyoming Nuke Plant

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By Coy Knobel, Cowboy State Daily

President Joe Biden has COVID-19, but that didn’t stop him from announcing billions in climate change spending, executive actions and talking about one energy project in Wyoming.

Biden has tested positive for COVID-19, his press secretary announced Thursday.

“He is fully vaccinated and twice boosted and experiencing very mild symptoms,” Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement.

She said the president has been in contact with members of the White House staff by phone and would participate in his planned meetings at the White House via phone and Zoom.  He will continue to be isolated until he gets a negative test upon which he will return to in-person work.

Members of Congress, the media and anyone who interacted with the president yesterday are being informed by the White House Medical Unit.

The president traveled to Somerset, Massachusetts yesterday where he said he would “act with urgency and resolve when our nation faces clear and present danger.  And that’s what climate change is about.  It is literally, not figuratively, a clear and present danger.”

He announced $2.3 billion for FEMA to help protect communities from extreme heat and other disasters, $385 million to pay for air conditioners in homes and “community cooling”, wind projects and others. 

The president highlighted energy projects throughout the country. 

“Folks, elsewhere in the country…we are propelling retrofits and ensuring that even where fossil fuel plant retires, they still have a role in powering the future,” Biden said.

In Illinois they are converting a power plant to a solar farm.  In California they are making an old oil plant into the world’s largest battery storage facility, he said.

Biden specifically gave a nod to an energy project in Wyoming.  

“In Wyoming, innovators are chosen to — a retiring plant as the next site for the next-generation nuclear plant,” he said.

He is believed to be referring to a nuclear power plant in Kemmerer.  Cowboy State Daily reported earlier this year that the natrium power plant is a “next generation” nuclear plant and is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.

According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.

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Wyoming One Catastrophe Away From Severe Increase In Gas Prices

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming could be just one catastrophe away from a severe increase in the already sky-high fuel prices, industry leaders told a state panel studying Wyoming’s gas and diesel prices Friday.

“If any of the refineries shut down, it takes more supply off the market,” John Dooley, owner of Dooley Oil, Inc. said. “We could be in a dire situation pretty quick.”

The handful of oil and gas industry members who testified before the Gas and Diesel Price Working Group on Friday afternoon in Cheyenne painted a gloomy forecast for the future of oil and gas prices in Wyoming. 

The Working Group was formed by Gov. Mark Gordon to examine rapid increases in the cost of gas and diesel in the state and possibly recommend solutions. He did not attend Friday’s meeting or speak to the group.

Tax Revenue Drop

Ron McMurry of the Cheyenne Logistics Hub industrial park said a catastrophic supply hit could lead to a drop in tax revenue for the state as consumers would likely curb their gas consumption. 

Rep. Clark Stith, R-Rock Springs said the state makes about $100 million in additional revenue for every $10 paid at the pump. Each penny of sales tax generates about $180 million per year. 

Sam Shumway, Wyoming state director for AARP, asked Peter Obermueller, president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, what he should tell his members who are struggling to pay their bills due to the increase in prices. 

Obermueller agreed the problem affects people’s livelihoods, but said oil and gas companies are independent groups that operate in a global market where collusion is illegal.

“Because of that, we don’t have the ability to set the price,” he said. “The answer is not simple.”

Stith and Obermueller said the Legislature could restore a property tax rebate program for elderly and the disabled that helps the state combat a proverbial ocean wave with “a canoe and paddles.” 

“It may get to the goal, which is relief for Wyoming consumers,” Stith said.

Obermueller also said a reconsideration to the state’s oil and tax structure could help the energy industry better prepare for gas price crisis scenarios like the one the state currently finds itself in.

The price of gasoline in Wyoming averaged $4.71 per gallon on Monday morning, an increase of almost $1.31 from one year ago.

Price Gouging

Cheyenne resident Les Moore accused oil and gas producers of price gouging, but McMurry, his co-worker Joe Stephenson and Dooley said their profit margins are thin. Obermueller said gas companies have become more conservative with their cash flow management due to prior recessions, which has slowed the amount of supply available on the market.

Obermueller said the high prices cannot be simply resolved by having Gov. Mark Gordon tell producers to create more oil or sell it at lower prices. In addition, wholesale gas and diesel suppliers have no control over the prices at the pump, which instead are heavily reliant on the global markets and outside pressures like the war in Ukraine, government spending, inflation and environmental policies, he said.

Obermueller said it would be detrimental for Wyoming if all its producers started retaining all production in-state.

“I think we need a bit of humility about the ability at the state level to do anything about price at the pump,” Obermueller. “As far as what the state of Wyoming can do, there’s not a lot more that can be done.”

Moore said CLH and other producers were being purposely ambiguous about their numbers at the meeting to obscure the large profits they are making.

“They’re telling us, the public, they stored tons of oil (during the pandemic) and took a loss on it,” he said. 

But McMurry said his company does not have enough storage volume to make it economically profitable to ship out crude oil to take advantage of shifting prices due to the current volatility of that market.

“If the prices change overnight, we could lose millions of dollars,” McMurry said.

Supply, Not Demand

Dooley said supply, not demand, has the biggest effect on fuel prices. Despite rising gas prices, demand has stayed somewhat steady in America this summer.

The current price of crude oil is $97.59, down from a high of $122.11 on June 8.

Dooley said his industry benefits more from lower gas and oil prices than high, because of the generally stable supply market accompanying it. The suppliers presenting at the meeting universally agreed that increasing supply will lower costs for consumers, but few answers were provided as to where this could come from.

Since 1978, Wyoming has lost 12 of its 15 refineries and produces 80,000 fewer barrels of oil per day. Conversely, the state population has grown by around 150,000 people and uses twice as many vehicles as it did in 1980. 

Dooley said his company relies heavily on the Suncor Refinery outside Denver for its gas and added his company’s supplies were significantly affected by the decision of the HollyFrontier refinery in Cheyenne to switch from making gasoline to making renewable diesel.

As a result of HollyFrontier switching over to renewable diesel, Obermueller said it reduced Wyoming’s overall oil production by 26%. He said HollyFrontier was prompted to make the change because it was spending $250 million to comply with federal regulations while refining gasoline.

“It was a motivating factor for them switching over,” he said.

The lack of oil pipelines and other supply sources in the Rocky Mountain Region was a frustration expressed by multiple producers at the meeting. 

New Refinery

Steve Cure, a staff member with Dooley Oil, said it would take about seven years to get a new refinery built, assuming there was no pushback from the federal government or any other outside groups.

Currently there are 21 oil and natural gas rigs in production in Wyoming, down from the 31 that were operating prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but up from the 14-16 operating during the winter and 18 in early June. Crude oil production had recovered to about two-thirds of its pre-pandemic production by March. Demand for gas is slightly lower than it was at this point last year.

Obermueller said the fossil fuel policies of President Joe Biden’s administration have caused a “chilling effect” on Wyoming’s energy industry, with the administration openly saying its policy is to end oil and gas drilling on federal land.

Tax Holiday

The idea of a fuel tax holiday has been proposed in some circles as a way to reduce gas prices, with about a dozen Republican Party members sending a letter to Gordon in June requesting it. Brenda Henson, chair of the Working Group, said the only letters her board has received on the topic are from groups voicing opposition to a fuel tax holiday. Wyoming has the second lowest fuel tax in the region.

Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland said he opposes adopting a tax holiday as he believes its benefits will be mostly limited to out-of-state travelers.

Wyoming Department of Transportation Director Luke Reiner said a reduction or cut to the state’s 24-cent per gallon fuel tax would have a dramatic effect on his department’s ability to fix and manage roads and start new projects. Since the tax is assessed on each gallon sold, rising fuel prices do not directly affect the cost of the tax itself on consumers. Last year, the fuel tax brought in $81.5 million in revenue for the state. The fuel tax cost the average resident $171 over the year.

The state typically builds new roads with a 90% match from the federal government. Reiner said having funds available to take advantage of matching programs like these is critical for the state’s infrastructure. He added WYDOT runs on a $350 million annual deficit, paying more than 2,000 employees with a $175 million annual payroll. 

Discussion also took place about removing a Wyoming state law that prohibits gas stations from selling their gas at their cost, with no markup. Stith said the move could incentivize stores to lower their prices and possibly recoup their losses with the sales of donuts and other items inside their stores. 

Cure expressed concern about this idea, mentioning a scenario in western Colorado where a corporate supermarket sold gas below cost to put a small convenience store out of business. The bigger store was able to sustain itself with the many more products it sold for a profit.

Reiner said the complicated gas distribution network, filled with many interstate reimbursement agreements, could soften any possible gains expected from revoking this law. 

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Wyoming Uranium Producers Optimistic About Restarting Production

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Production at Wyoming’s uranium mines all but ground to a halt in recent years as prices bottomed out, but business is looking up as global stockpiles wither and America reconsiders purchasing strategic minerals from its enemies. 

The resulting boost in prices has Wyoming producers looking at the possibility of restarting production.

“With the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it all came to light how dependent we are on Russian control of the fuel cycle,” said Travis Deti, Wyoming Mining Association executive director. “Any uranium we mine here in the States has to go to Russia for conversion and enrichment.” 

With 92 of the world’s estimated 435 nuclear reactors located in the U.S., America is the world’s largest supplier of nuclear power — a process fueled by yellowcake uranium. 

When used to fuel a reactor, about 1 pound of uranium can produce the same amount of energy as 20,000 pounds of coal, the WMA reported.

Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, however, global uranium stockpiles became inflated, driving down the price of a pound of yellowcake to a low of about $17.

“We have the capability to produce, but that’s dependent on the price per pound,” Deti said. “For the last couple of years, the price has been so depressed, it’s not been economical to mine the resource in Wyoming.” 

‘Decade Of Underproduction’

Scott Melbey, president of Uranium Producers of America, said global uranium stockpiles are dwindling, causing yellowcake prices to rise. 

Melbey also serves as the executive vice president of Uranium Energy Corporation, which owns assets in Wyoming’s Powder Basin and Texas. 

“The price of uranium has jumped to $50-$60 a pound recently,” Melbey said. “We’re comfortable enough with the current market that we’ll be restarting operations in Wyoming and Texas.”

In northeast Wyoming, Peninsula Energy Limited CEO Wayne Heili is eyeing the markets as he and his team consider restarting Strata Energy Incorporated’s uranium mining operations. 

“We certainly saw a spike in prices during the beginning of the war in Ukraine, but I don’t think it’s a blip in the market,” Heili said, explaining prices have leveled in the months since the Russians’ initial push. “And I anticipate prices will continue to rise, because the world has experienced a decade of underproduction.”

Unlike some mineral extraction operations, rebooting a uranium operation is a lengthy process.

Melbey said his company was well-positioned to begin extraction before the end of the year, but Heili said the earliest his operations would be online would be the first quarter of 2023. 

Strategic Uranium Reserve

Uranium prices are only one piece of the puzzle, however. Melbey, Heili and the rest of Wyoming’s producers have reason to believe stateside uranium production could become more common in the next few years. 

In 2019, former President Donald Trump’s administration formed the U.S. Nuclear Fuel Cycle Working Group, which determined the nation’s reliance on foreign uranium production presented a national security risk, Deti said.

As a result, Trump’s administration proposed establishing a Strategic Uranium Reserve (SUR), which could stockpile about 10 years’ worth of uranium. To create the stockpile, Deti said the Trump administration wanted to spend $1.5 billion over a 10-year period to purchase uranium from U.S. producers. 

In 2020, Congress authorized spending $75 million to establish the SUR, but the U.S. has yet to start purchasing American-produced uranium. 

Additionally, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyoming, introduced legislation in March which could prohibit the U.S. from importing Russian uranium. 

In an email, Barrasso’s deputy communications director, Sarah Durdaller, said the senator was pushing to eliminate American reliance on Russian fuel exports. 

“(Barrasso) stated, ‘The time is now to permanently remove all Russian energy from the American marketplace,’” Durdaller wrote. “‘We know Vladimir Putin uses this money to help fund his brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine. While banning imports of Russian oil, gas and coal is an important step, it cannot be the last. Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security.’”

As awareness grows of the risks of relying on foreign and sometimes hostile countries for the nation’s fuels, the uranium industry could write a new page in Wyoming’s history book. 

The atrocities of war are no cause for celebration, Melbey said, but one outcome of the Ukrainian conflict could be a secure line of production for U.S. nuclear reactors. Regardless of the war, he said American producers are gearing up to meet rising global demands. 

“My optimism is based on the fundamentals of supply and demand,” Melbey said. “The Russia-Ukraine war is a geopolitical black swan that throws gas on the fire, but the fire was already lit.” 

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State, Energy Groups Criticize EPA Policy Blaming Wyoming For Denver Smog

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming and some of its energy industry groups are criticizing as “illogical” proposed federal rules that would punish the state for contributing 1% of the pollutants that make up Denver-area smog.

Two industry groups and the state itself responded during the public comment period on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s “Good Neighbor” policy, which would regulate nitrogen oxide emissions in areas that have no pollution problem, but are identified by the EPA as contributors to the problems in other states.

“The EPA-proposed (federal plan) to regulate NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions is not supported with scientific basis and the analysis is flawed,” Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association, said in a May 3 letter to the EPA.  

Deti’s comments were echoed this month by a petroleum industry advocate who called the rule “bizarre,” and by the state of Wyoming itself, which called the rule “arbitrary” and unfair.  

Seasonal Shutdowns 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in April announced that states contributing more than 1% in ground ozone ingredients to downwind states that are in violation of EPA ozone limits could soon fall under federal emissions controls, called the “Good Neighbor” policy. 

The EPA said Wyoming contributes about 1.1% of the ingredientsd that make up smog found in the Denver area, so it would be one of the upwind states affected by the new rule.  

But in the public comment period that ended Tuesday, Wyoming’s energy sector advocates called the EPA’s scientific process faulty.  

Deti called the emission standards “unachievable” and said they would hurt Wyoming’s economy without reducing Denver area smog to levels considered acceptable by the EPA.

After reviewing the public comments on the rule, the EPA will decide whether it should be adopted. If adopted, the rule would impose seasonal shutdowns on power plants and put emissions limits on other businesses, all of which could raise electricity prices for Wyomingites and other Westerners, according to critics.   

‘Better Chance’ Of Smog From Denver 

Another Wyoming energy advocate, the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said it was “bizarre” that the EPA would enforce the same emissions laws on Wyoming that it does on California when California winds send 42 times more smog ingredients to other states than Wyoming’s winds do.  

Wyoming’s only downwind state with a noted smog problem is Colorado.  

The association pointed to Gillette’s Wyodak coal power plant as a debunking factor in EPA’s blanket policy.  

“The prevailing wind in Gillette comes from the south and southwest, which is the opposite direction of Denver. Yet the EPA is proposing that this facility is contributing significantly to (Denver smog),” Colin McKee, PAW regulatory affairs director, said in a Monday letter to the EPA.  

Cheyenne winds, McKee added, usually blow to Kansas and Nebraska. “During most of the year, the general wind directions do not lend themselves for emissions generated in Wyoming to travel to Denver,” said McKee. “In fact, it seems more likely that emissions from sources along the (Denver-area) Front Range have a better chance of coming into Wyoming.  

Colorado, however, is not penalized under the EPA’s good neighbor policy, as EPA data projects that Colorado won’t send more than 1% of smog-causing ingredients to its own downwind states in 2023.  

Contrary To Law’ 

Wyoming itself pushed back on the federal agency.  

In a Tuesday letter by Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Director Todd Parfitt, Parfitt noted that the EPA in 2015 found it “not appropriate” to impose Good Neighbor emissions laws on Western states like Wyoming, but shifted its position in 2021.  

“The EPA flip-flopped,” said Parfitt in the letter. “Rather than working with Western states, EPA proposed its Transport Rule, including the wholesale adoption of (new emissions embargoes) to Western states, without its promised consultation.”  

The state rebuked the EPA for the policy’s short public comment period, which ended Tuesday, the very date of Parfitt’s letter.  

“EPA’s proposed transport rule is contrary to law and is based on flawed science,” the letter continued, listing additional concerns, including the following:  

Wyoming depends heavily on its energy sector and other NOx-emitting businesses;  

Wyoming has managed its own air quality without requiring federal environmental plans;  

EPA’s testing did not include smog ingredients caused by lightning or by the methane emissions of one of Denver’s own basins; 

Even if Wyoming reduced downwind smog ingredients to zero, Denver still wouldn’t be in compliance with EPA’s limits;

Job losses, power plant shutdowns and economic lags all could result from the rule, according to the DEQ’s letter;  

Oregon appears to be enjoying EPA favoritism, the DEQ implied, because the EPA is forgiving some of Oregon’s California-bound emissions.  

According to the Federal Register, federal entities may change, terminate, or continue with rulemaking after the public comment period as they deem appropriate.  

Colorado Regulates Air 

Colorado has labored under its own rigorous emissions controls for years, according to Mike Silverstein, Colorado Regional Air Quality Council director.  

Silverstein emphasized that the RAQ is an environmental planning group established by Colorado’s governor and while it works closely with the state, it does not represent the state of Colorado or its governor.  

“My board, the Regional Air Quality Council is supporting EPA’s efforts to reduce emissions in the upwind states,” said Silverstein in an interview with Cowboy State Daily. 

“We’re not taking a position on how that should be done,” he said, adding that RAQC was advised to send “supportive comments” to the EPA on the matter.  

The Denver area has exceeded EPA ground ozone standards for years. The region was downgraded from “moderate” to “serious” in 2019 and is slated to be reclassified as “severe” this July. 

Each downgrade brings more federal regulation and millions of dollars in penalties payable to the state, and, in the case of the “severe” designation, reformulated gasoline will be required throughout the region by next year.  

Reformulated gasoline so far is only required in nine areas of the U.S., all urban metropolitan areas.  

It’s time for upwind states to help out, said Silverstein.  

“My own analysis says upwind sources are influencing our ability to come into compliance with the ozone standards,” including Wyoming, Utah, and California, he said.  

“They have emissions that are contributing to our problem, and that we’d appreciate if those, through EPA’s action, those emission reductions occurring in those upwind states help us in our quest in coming into compliance with ozone standards,” he said. 

‘We Have Our Own Issues’ 

Silverstein clarified that Colorado has plenty of domestic nitrous oxide and volatile organic compound (smog ingredients) emission sources, but said there have been many rule changes implemented to combat those, including: stringent requirements on paint, cleaning products, and the oil and gas industry; the phasing-out of coal power plants; requirements for about 7% or more of vehicles sold to be electric vehicles; grant incentives for companies to install electric vehicle charging stations, and other transportation reforms. 

Ozone Not Down 

An EPA data chart depicting Colorado ozone trends shows no noteworthy decline or increase in smog trends in more than a decade.  

Silverstein said the state’s population increases during that time suggest that emissions per person are actually going down, which he deemed an improvement.  

“We haven’t gotten there but we’ve made that progress because of the emission control programs we’ve had that have countered the dramatic growth in our state,” he said.   

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President’s Angry Letter To Oil, Gas Companies Falls Flat With Wyoming Producers

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By Coy Knobel, Cowboy State Daily

A letter from President Joe Biden to oil and gas company executives blaming them for high energy prices was more hypocritical than helpful, an industry spokesman told Cowboy State Daily Tuesday.

Ryan McConnaughey, vice president and director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said Biden’s letter makes improper assumptions about how oil and gas prices are determined.

“He makes it seem like oil and gas companies are setting the price,” McConnaughey said. “They aren’t.  Setting prices is global, so I don’t understand how they think profit margins could do this.”

Dragged Feet

In a June 14 letter to ExxonMobil, Marathon Petroleum Corp., Valero Energy Corp, Phillips 66, Shell, BP and Chevron, Biden wrote that Vladimir Putin “is principally responsible for the intense financial pain the American people and their families are bearing.”

However, he also claimed oil refining companies have dragged their feet on increasing fuel supplies they cut during the COVID pandemic when there was less demand.  Less supply means higher prices and profits. 

“In the year before I took office, refineries in the United States reduced their capacity by more than 800,000 barrels a day, leaving American refinery companies today at their lowest level of capacity in more than a half decade,” Biden wrote.  “But at a time of war, refinery profit margins well above normal being passed directly onto American families are not acceptable.”

Policy, Not Profits

McConnaughey said oil refining capacity in Wyoming and the nation has indeed dropped over the last few years, but the decline is due more to policy than profits.  He said refiners are doing what they can to keep up with demand.

“Nationwide refining capacity is something like 93%, so when you’re running that high at utilization, that is a weak argument,” he said. “They are operating now at about as close to max as you can get.” 

Last we saw for our region — Colorado, Wyoming and Utah — we were running almost at 99 percent capacity, he continued. “That’s pretty good utilization in the Rocky Mountains.”

 According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, five Wyoming oil refineries had the capacity to refine 177,500 barrels of oil per day in 2017.  That went down to 168,500 for the next three years.  In 2021 capacity fell again to where it is presently at 125,850 barrels.  Wyoming has one less refinery now than in recent years.  Today there are oil refineries in Casper, Sinclair, Douglas and Newcastle. The refinery in Cheyenne is being rebuilt to produce renewable diesel.

EPA

McConnaughy said the drop in capacity in 2021 was mainly due to the conversion of the refinery in Cheyenne.

That conversion was was the result of the Environmental Protection Agency failing to renew the exemptions for the federal requirements that refineries blend fossil fuels with a certain percentage of renewable fuels such as ethanol. 

Biden told oil company executives that they could take immediate actions to increase the supply of gasoline, diesel and other refined products, thereby reducing prices, but McConnaughey wasn’t sure what the president meant by that statement.

 “It’s not like flipping a switch and getting more capacity,” he said. “That is kind of the hypocrisy of the president’s letter — asking for an increase in capacity on one side and then on the other side his policies are making it more difficult for investors to invest in the oil and gas industry.”

Major Investment

McConnaughey said increasing refinery capacity in Wyoming and the nation would require major investment.  Some companies are looking at such increases, but it would be years out, he said.

He added the president’s letter was just another attempt by the administration to shift blame and direct the outrage that high oil and gas prices are causing away from the administration and on to oil and gas companies. 

“His administration is doing everything it can to shut down the industry and attack them when polling doesn’t look like it is in his favor,” McConnaughey said.

COVID did spark a loss in refining capacity in the U.S., but many of these reductions were already planned or underway, according to the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers.

“Political and financial pressure to move away from petroleum derived fuels, costs associated with federal and state regulatory compliance and facilities’ singular economic performance all inform these decisions,” the group said.

What can be done?

Biden wrote that if the oil companies would not help maintain and expand fuel supply, his administration “is prepared to use all reasonable and appropriate Federal Government tools and emergency authorities to increase refinery capacity and output in the near term…”

Energy Secretary

Biden directed Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm to convene an emergency meeting with oil companies and the National Petroleum Council, scheduled for Thursday.

Biden asked refiners prior to the meeting to provide the secretary with an explanation of any reduction in their refining capacity since 2020.  He also asked for ideas on how to address inventory, price and refining capacity issues in the coming months.

McConnaughey said his organization is advocating for the government to do everything it can to increase supply.  Increased drilling in Wyoming would be helpful, as would be working with global partners to refine and transport oil and gas to make it easier to distribute, he said.

McConnaughey said Putin, with his attack on Ukraine, does share some of the blame, but policies in the U.S. could be improved and changed.   McConnaughey said renewable fuel standards and leasing royalty rates were two examples.

“We hope that Secretary Granholm will come away from the meeting with a willingness to work with the industry as we meet the challenges our industry is facing,” he said. “Workforce and supply chain issues continue to hamper development, and federal policies make it difficult to kickstart drilling on federal lands.”

Get Ready For Six Dollar Gas In Wyoming

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

Gas prices seem high now but the worst is yet to come, at least according to one industry insider in Wyoming. 

A Laramie-based gasoline distributor said the likelihood of seeing gas prices over $6 per gallon this summer is a certainty.

It’s not that far off now. Tim Mandese, who tracks gas prices for Cowboy State Daily, reported on Friday that one gas station in Jackson is now charging $5.29 per gallon while the average in the state is $4.41.

Supply And Demand

Mintu Pandher, owner of Laramie-headquartered Akal Energy, said gas prices will continue to increase because the demand is there and supply is tight. And as long as these conditions remain, the prices aren’t going down.

“We’re not seeing any demand destruction yet,” Pandher told Cowboy State Daily, referring to an economic phrase which means that high prices will eventually cause demand to drop.

But Pandher said that phenomenon isn’t happening, likely because of the COVID pandemic.

“People didn’t drive for two years so I think there’s a feeling like they have a right to drive now, regardless of price. They’re driving despite the gas prices,” he said.

“Exporting Like Crazy”

Pandher said the difference this year compared to 2008, when gas prices also soared, is the U.S. imported more oil than it does now. Plus, U.S. companies are exporting a lot more as well.

“We are exporting like crazy,” he said, mentioning that the U.S. is now exporting more than 10 million barrels per day now compared to 8 million barrels a day a year ago.

“East coast oil companies would much rather sell gas and diesel to Europe than local markets because our local consumers feel like gas should cost $1.99 or $2.99 a gallon,” he said. “They can make more money overseas.”

Wyoming is certainly not alone in feeling the pinch although things are much worse in some other states.

$9.50 Per Gallon

One gas station in California on Friday recorded $9.50 per gallon in Mendocino, along the northern California coast.

Although it won’t get that high in Wyoming, Pandher said but the $6 range can be expected.

“Gasoline is a commodity,” he said. “The more demand for it, the higher the price.”

Pandher said it’s easy to point the finger at oil companies and blame them but he said there’s no real bad guy.

It’s a global economy and oil companies are merely trying to make money for their investors, he said.

“These companies are publicly traded,” he said. “So it’s their obligation to make every single dollar and a penny for the investors. 

“They feel like they got hurt the last few years and they aren’t going to lose money,” he said.

So when do things get back to normal?

“When the demand drops. It’s up to the consumer,” he said.

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Feds OK Gigantic 416-Mile Transmission Line To Connect Wyo Wind Farms To Power Western States

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The federal government on Thursday approved plans by an Oregon-based company to build a 416-mile transmission line that would carry energy from wind farms across Wyoming and other Western states to a power grid in Utah.

PacifiCorp was notified this week that it could proceed with construction on its Gateway South transmission line, which will stretch from Medicine Bow to Mona, Utah, and will cross northwestern Colorado

Company spokeswoman Tiffany Erickson told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that 142 miles of the 416 mile line will be located in Wyoming.

“We started on this Energy Gateway project back in May 2007,” Erickson said. “We’ve had a number of setbacks, including the recession, the pandemic and other things in between. But now, this nod from the (U.S.) Bureau of Land Management was the last thing we needed to move forward, at least on this portion.”

Construction on the Gateway South line will begin June. The line is expected to produce around 2,000 megawatts of renewable energy. The Gateway South is just part of the larger Energy Gateway project.

The goal of the Energy Gateway project is to add approximately 2,000 miles of new transmission lines across the West and will ultimately cost around $2.2 billion. Three major segments of Energy Gateway are complete and in service, but more work continues to be done.

In August, construction will begin on Gateway West, another transmission line project that will also have a portion in Wyoming, 75 miles to be exact, according to Erickson. Gateway West will stretch from eastern Wyoming all the way to the Idaho/Oregon border.

Both Gateway South and Gateway West are expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

“Wyoming has some of the best wind in the country and that’s why Rocky Mountain Power has built wind farms in certain areas of the state,” Erickson said. “Wyoming has, for generations, played a major role in the nation’s energy future, so we’re happy to work with state and local leaders on this project.

“We want to take advantages of the energy opportunities in the state and ensure that Wyoming remains the nation’s leading energy producer and exporter,” she continued.

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EPA Denies Sinclair’s Exemption For Ethanol Content

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By Leo Wolfson, Cowboy State Daily

One of Wyoming’s three oil refineries is among 36 nationally to have its request to be exempted from biofuel blending rules refused.

Documents filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals showed the Sinclair Refinery near Rawlins applied with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for an exemption from the rules, but the application was denied April 7.

While the state’s other two refineries, Sinclair Casper Refining Co. and the Wyoming Refining Co., in Newcastle are listed in the court documents with Sinclair Refinery, there is no way to tell if they asked for the exemption.

Oil refineries are required to blend a certain amount of soybean or corn-derived fuel into their gasoline product under the Renewable Fuel Standard administered by the EPA, or, in the alternative, purchase compliance credits.

Small refineries, those processing less than 75,000 barrels of crude oil a day, can claim the biofuel requirements pose a “disproportionate economic hardship” and seek an exemption.

All three of Wyoming’s crude oil refineries meet the production requirements aspects of this waiver. 

The 36 refineries addressed in the EPA’s decision had all asked for exemptions for the 2018 production year. The exemptions were granted in 2019, but in 2020, a federal court adopted much more stringent rules facilities had to meet to qualify. 

One Wyoming refinery, HollyFrontier in Cheyenne, stopped processing crude oil and is transitioning to full biofuel production, a move that led to the layoff of 200 workers in 2020.

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis, in an opinion piece in “The Hill,” said HollyFrontier’s decision was influenced by the plant’s loss of its exemption to the blending requirement.

“Many small refineries seek these small refinery exemptions annually,” Lummis wrote. “To remain competitive, they have no other choice. The cost of compliance credits is commonly their second-highest production expense, trailing only the cost of crude oil.”

Lummis also spoke on the poor timing of the decision in relation to rising gas prices. She said the compliance credits within the Renewable Fuel Standard program add 30 cents to 50 cents to the cost of a gallon of gasoline.

Lummis said the EPA has also indicated it will deny all requests for exemptions for production years from 2019 to 2021.

Decisions against the exemptions further limit the ability of American refineries to meet demand for gasoline, said Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

“We still see an increase in demand for petroleum products in Wyoming and across the globe,” McConnaughey told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “The recent increases in gas prices show the need for production.”

However, the biofuel and petroleum industries are at odds over the blending rules.

The Renewable Fuels Association, in a statement about the EPA’s decision to deny the exemptions, said the exemptions address past wrongs by refineries, but the EPA’s decision did not do enough to remedy economic problems created by the exemptions in the past.

The RFA also opposed the EPA’s plan to give 31 of the refineries whose exemptions were rejected an alternative to buying compliance credits.

To receive relief, the 31 refiners must resubmit compliance reports for 2018 and report their fuel production for that year and other data.

“EPA is granting this compliance flexibility because the agency has determined that there are extenuating circumstances specific to this set of petitions, including the fact that SRE petitions were previously granted,” the department said in its SRE announcement.

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Jonah Field Executive: Resumption Of Oil, Gas Leasing ‘Promising’

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The end to a moratorium on oil and gas lease sales on federal land is “promising,” even though the amount of land to be leased has been significantly reduced from original proposals, a vice president of Jonah Energy told Cowboy State Daily.

Paul Ulrich, in a position different from those taken by other industry and government officials, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday although the federal government has severely cut the amount of land available to lease for oil and gas production, the fact that the sales will resume again is a good start.

“We all should be pleased that we’re seeing some leases,” he said. “We should be pleased we’re seeing some proactive movement from this administration.”

Other officials in Wyoming have not been so enthusiastic about the lease sale to be held in June, noting only 144,000 acres will be made available nationally by the Interior Department for oil and gas drilling — an 80% reduction of land that had been under evaluation for leasing. Most of that land — 132,000 acres — will be available for lease in Wyoming.

The BLM assessed 733,000 acres of potential drilling sites in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming before approving the 144,000 acres for lease sale.

In addition to the reduction in available land, the royalty rate on oil and gas produced from federal land will increase from 12.5% to 18.75%.

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming was much harsher than Ulrich in its thoughts about the reduced land available for lease and the higher royalties, saying the administration of President Joe Biden was making energy production much more expensive in a time when inflation and high gas prices are dominating the country.

“President Biden knows this isn’t the energy policy Americans want,” PAW said this week. “Otherwise he would be trumpeting these announcements himself rather than having his Secretary of Interior release a statement late in the afternoon on a holiday weekend when no one is paying attention.”

Gov. Mark Gordon and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso both criticized the limits on oil and gas leases, with Barrasso pointing specifically at Biden’s call for increased oil and gas production in the face of rising petroleum prices.

“After begging American oil and natural gas companies for months to produce more, the Biden administration is still doing all it can to restrict leasing on federal lands,” Barrasso said. “First it was an illegal moratorium imposed at the start of his presidency. Now it’s this proposal to dramatically increase the cost of onshore leases while cutting the acres offered for lease by 80 percent. The president claims he’s doing nothing to limit domestic production, but once again his administration is making American energy more expensive and harder to produce.”

But Ulrich said the simple act of resuming oil and gas lease sales shows the Biden administration understands that public lands can play a “very” critical role in providing a nation’s energy resources.

“I’m also hopeful that this administration recognizes that Wyoming, in particular, can provide some of the cleanest energy in the country, if not the world,” he said. “Operators and Wyoming state agencies, especially the Department of Environmental Quality, have done an outstanding job in reducing our overall methane impacts through both regulatory and voluntary efforts.”

The sale inventory was welcomed by the Powder River Basin Resource Council, which said it appreciated the U.S. Interior Department’s efforts to adjust the program and that the agency was finally beginning to modernize policies of “great importance” to the nation’s economic and social future.

“It’s high time to halt the underpriced giveaway of federal lands and mineral resources and reframe leasing to better serve American taxpayers, state treasuries, public land users, and the millions of citizens suffering accelerating harm from climate change,” the organization said. “For years we have advocated that federal royalty rates should be raised to more closely match those charged by private landowners, and are glad Interior has finally done so after a century of stagnation.

“The energy world is changing, and time is running out to support states and communities that have nurtured the oil and gas industry for decades. Increased royalty rates will help ensure they get their due before the inevitable decline,” PBRC continued.

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Gordon Welcomes Biden Flip-Flop On Resuming Federal Gas, Oil Lease Sales

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon on Friday welcomed President Joe Biden’s change in policy that would again allow the sale of oil and gas leases.

However, Gordon questioned the impact of the Biden administration’s decision to sharply reduce the number of acres available for lease while increasing royalty rates.

Only 144,000 acres will be made available by the Interior Department for oil and gas drilling — an 80% reduction of land that had been under evaluation for leasing. The royalty rate will be increased by 50% — from 12.5% to 18.75%.

“The announcement of an upcoming federal oil and gas lease sale is welcome news, but long overdue,” Gordon said Friday. “While we don’t know the exact number and location of the Wyoming parcels, after 15 months without a lease sale in our state, to learn that royalty rates will be increased and available acreage significantly reduced is hardly cause for unbridled celebration.”

“I am concerned that these changes will have a chilling effect on Wyoming companies as they prepare their bids,” he said.

On Monday, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management will issue final environmental assessments and sale notices for upcoming oil and gas lease sales that reflect the new approach the federal government has taken in making federal properties available for lease.

Anger

Climate activists, predictably, were angered by Biden’s decision calling it a “betrayal.”

“This is pure climate denial,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a statement. “While the Biden administration talks a good talk on climate action, the reality is, they’re in bed with the oil and gas industry.”

Biden put a halt to oil and gas leasing almost immediately after taking office in 2021.

Skeptical

Despite the move, consumers aren’t likely to notice anything meaningful at the pump as once a lease has been granted, it can take years for any oil to be realized that could be added to supply.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America was skeptical of the announcement.

“This administration has begged for more oil from foreign nations, blames American energy producers for price gouging and sitting on leases,” C. Jeffrey Eshelman, the COO of the organization told the Wall Street Journal. “Now, on a late holiday announcement, under pressure, it announces a lease sale with major royalty increases that will add uncertainty to drilling plans for years.”

Spin

Meanwhile, the Department of Interior attempted to minimize what many are calling a “political announcement.”

“How we manage our public lands and waters says everything about what we value as a nation,” U.S. Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland said Friday. “For too long, the federal oil and gas leasing programs have prioritized the wants of extractive industries above local communities, the natural environment, the impact on our air and water, the needs of Tribal Nations, and, moreover, other uses of our shared public lands.”

“Today, we begin to reset how and what we consider to be the highest and best use of Americans’ resources for the benefit of all current and future generations,” she said.

Embarrassing

A report released by the Biden administration last November about oil and gas leasing was called “embarrassing” by both Gordon and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

The BLM assessed potentially available and eligible acreage in Alabama, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. It began analyzing 646 parcels on roughly 733,000 acres that had been previously nominated for leasing by energy companies.

As a result of the environmental review, engagement with tribes and communities and prioritizing the American people’s interests in public lands, the final sale notices will offer approximately 173 parcels on roughly 144,000 acres, an 80% reduction from the acreage originally nominated.

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Biden Ethanol Plan “Hypocritical” And Won’t Have Impact On Oil, Corn Industries

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A federal plan aimed at reducing gas prices by allowing the increased use of ethanol in some gasoline sold around the country should have little effect on Wyoming oil production, an industry expert said.

However, the added demand for corn that could result from the switch might bring higher prices for Wyoming’s corn producers, according to a spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture. 

President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced plans to allow the use of gasoline containing 15% ethanol — called E15 — during the summer months. Sales of the fuel, which is about 10 cents per gallon cheaper than regular gasoline, had previously been banned in the summer because of concerns it generates more pollution than regular gas during those months.

But only about 2,300 stations in the United States sell E15, which means the extended period of sale will probably have little impact on Wyoming’s oil production, said Ryan McConnaughey, director of communications for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming.

However, the plan shows a certain level of hypocrisy on the part of the Biden administration, which has been discouraging domestic oil and gas production, because of believes E15 causes more pollution in summer months than regular gas, McConnaughey said.

“I think creating these changes, which really won’t have a huge impact on gas prices, is proof the administration cares more about its optics than it does about addressing prices at the pump, which could be done by spurring the production of oil and gas,” he said.

The change will probably also have little direct impact on the amount of corn sold in the state, said Derek Grant, a spokesman for the state Agriculture, because little of the corn raised in Wyoming is used for ethanol.

However, the increase in demand for corn could lead to higher prices paid Wyoming producers, he said.

“What it could possibly do is improve the market for corn and if the prices go up for corn, that will obviously be good for any corn producers,” he said.

Because most of Wyoming’s corn is grown for use as feed, that might also mean a boost in prices for the state’s livestock producers, he said.

“When the market goes up for one commodity, it unfortunately has an impact on others,” he said.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, about 79,000 acres of land was planted into corn in Wyoming in 2021, generating about 10.4 million bushels.

Grant said most of the state’s corn is raised in its southeastern corner near Torrington and in northern Wyoming in the Big Horn Basin.

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Wyoming Mining Spokesman: Coal Production Up, Being Sent Domestically

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s coal producers are not yet seeing the impact of a European ban on the import of Russian coal, according to an industry official.

However, the state’s coal producers have seen significant increases in demand for their product domestically, said Travis Deti, executive director for the Wyoming Mining Association.

“With the ban on importing Russian coal, it doesn’t impact Wyoming much at all,” Deti told Cowboy State Daily. “Our prices are a little bit higher than where we traditionally are, around $16 a ton, which is about $4 higher than our typical prices, but we’re not in the $100s like the national prices.”

The low sulfur content of Wyoming’s coal means it has a lower energy content, so it sells for less than coal from other areas of the country.

According to Bloomberg, U.S. coal prices topped $100 a ton for the first time in 13 years last week as the Russian war in Ukraine upended international energy markets and an economic rebound from the pandemic drove up demand for fossil fuels.

Russian coal accounted for almost 18% of global exports in 2020, according to Bloomberg.

Deti said traditionally, Wyoming has not exported coal internationally. He added the trend may continue because of logistical issues and the question of whether Europe would want Wyoming coal.

However, Powder River Basin mines, which produce most of Wyoming’s coal, have had to hire 300 coal miners in order to keep up with domestic demand, he said.

“Our mines are pretty much sold out right now, we are using so much of our coal domestically,” Deti said. “So if there was a market to ship coal to Europe, we would staff up further and also get more people in more trains to move the coal.”

Deti said the increase in the price for Wyoming coal has been driven by rising natural gas costs. He said that anytime natural gas goes over $3, Wyoming coal becomes competitively priced.

There is an opportunity to ship coal to Europe, but Deti said certain logistical pieces have to fall into place and European buyers will have to determine whether a purchase of Wyoming coal would be economically sound.

Deti said the increase in prices and production shows that coal is still very important to the United States’ energy supply.

“We can’t put all our eggs in one basket, whether it natural gas or renewables,” Deti said. “Coal is really the only energy source which is readily available and reliable, and we’re seeing that now. We’ve seen a shift back to coal because gas prices have gone up.”

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State Could See Economic Jump From Rare Earth Deposits In Northeastern Wyoming

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By Kris Wendtland, Cowboy State Daily

Two companies are working to develop and process rare earth deposits in Wyoming in the face of escalating demand for the valuable elements.

Wyoming Rare USA in late March began drilling in exploration of rare earth elements in Albany County west of Wheatland.  In October, Rare Element Resources started working on a rare earths demonstration processing facility to be built in Upton.

The work comes as the demand for rare earths escalates, with uses ranging from cell phones and air conditioners to electric cars and defense applications

Marty Weems, president for American Rare Earths, the parent company for Wyoming Rare USA, said his company’s work in Albany County is an attempt to determine whether a rare earth mine in the area would be profitable.

“It’s definitely not yet a mine,” he said. “We’re not a mining company.  We’re what’s considered a mineral exploration company.  Once a discovery has been made on the surface, we come in and do the planning, evaluating, and engineering. We determine if it can be made into a technically viable product with the goal of making it shovel ready.”

Electric motors, such as those used in vehicles and air conditioners, are major consumers of rare earth minerals, Weems said, and the demand for such motors is growing as countries develop globally.

“When people come out of poverty, first they buy a refrigerator and then they buy an air conditioner,” he said. “So when people come out of poverty, the demand for products that have rare earths in them increases.”

Upton Demonstration Plant 

Rare Element Resources Inc., a Wyoming corporation, is working to develop an Upton demonstration plant that will separate rare earths from raw ore removed from the Bear Lodge Mountains near Sundance.

A consortium that includes Rare Element Resources was awarded nearly $22 million by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.  

The DOE money will pay for half of the engineering, construction, and operation of the rare earth separation and processing plant in Upton.  The plant is expected to provide pure neodymium and praseodymium, rare earths that make incredibly strong magnets.

Randy Scott, president and CEO of Rare Element Resources, said General Atomics, a defense contractor, has invested in the processing plant, demonstrating the importance of rare earth minerals to defense applications.

“The national security aspect of rare earth mining is just critical,” Scott said.  “The investment [by General Atomics] is driven by their knowledge of the defense industry’s reliance on systems which make use of those materials.”

The U.S. Department of Defense is not a major consumer of rare earth minerals, Scott said, but it needs a stable source of the minerals.

“The Department of Defense is not a huge consumer of magnets made with rare earth.  But what they do consume is extremely critical,” he said. “If you can’t assure yourself of a domestic source of that and have to depend on China, you’re in big trouble.”

Weems agreed with Scott on the importance of rare earths to national defense.  

“This particular industry and supply chain are of really serious interest to the Department of Energy and the Department of Defense,” he said. “They are currently concerned that almost the entire supply chain goes through China.  If you have a supply chain that goes through a potential adversary, it can get worrisome if things get kinetic.”

The federal government has identified rare earth elements as one of the 35 items critical to national security and domestic economic prosperity. 

Eight rare earth elements are used in mobile phones.  Six are used in hybrid vehicles.

Just three of the rare earths critical to national defense are: 

◆ Neodymium — More magnetic than any other element.  That makes it a good choice for use in missile guidance systems.

◆ Lanthanum — Makes glass easier to see through, making it important for surveillance and reconnaissance camera lenses.

◆ Samarium — A key component of traveling wave tubes, the “backbone of the world’s entire space communications system” says a contributor to Physics Today. https://physicstoday.scitation.org/doi/full/10.1063/PT.3.4872

All three are among the rare earth elements found in Wyoming.

UW Playing A Big Role In Development

University of Wyoming researchers have determined the state could be home to large rare earth element deposits, said Scott Quillinan, senior director of research for the university’s School of Energy Resources.

“Wyoming has some interesting and potentially large rare earth element resources,” he said.

He pointed specifically to the deposit in the Bear Lodge Mountains that Rare Element Resources plans to process at its Upton demonstration plant.

“(It) is often referred to as one of the largest unmined rare earth deposits in North America,” he said. “(Western Rare Earths) is working on defining the rare earth element resources of Red Mountain pluton in Albany County.  So that’s two, potential, mineable deposits in Wyoming.”

Several other UW researchers have focused their efforts on evaluating the presence of rare earth elements from Powder River Basin coal ash collected from four power plants.

The researchers, in a paper published in “Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews,” revealed that the ash could provide rare earth elements that could be extracted economically.

The findings are important because “China and Southeastern Asia dominate all parts of the REE market value chain – from extraction and production to final consumption in the manufacturing sector,” according to work done by UW’s Melissa Firestone and Jada Garfalo, both researchers with UW’s School of Energy Resources.

Workforce Needed Over Next Two To 10 Years

The construction of Rare Element Resources’ demonstration plant should be an economic boon for northeastern Wyoming.

Assuming the knowledge and skills are available, the plant will be built and operated with local workers where possible, Scott said.

He added the company already has 1,000 tons of material to process at the plant, which should help reduce America’s reliance on China for some rare earth elements.

“We aren’t producing a concentrate that has to go to China to be processed,” he said.

Wyoming’s experience with coal production should help provide Rare Element Resources with the labor force it needs, he added.

“This is a tremendous state to be working in,” he said. “Wyoming has quite an established workforce in coal mining that we can borrow from.  Those are the types of people we need for maintenance and construction jobs.”

Some training will be needed for the workers who run the plant, Scott added.

“There will be laboratory analysis, process design, and engineering work on the chemical processing side, plus process and engineering work on the mechanical and industrial side,” he said.

In Albany County, if Western Rare Earths’ drilling results in a rare earths mining operation, the operation will need local employees.  That timeline is quite a bit longer than the timeline for the Upton facility, but, assuming a mine is feasible, Weems said, this could “be a big construction project.”

“It wouldn’t be a little thing,” he said. “Those construction capabilities would be a big need for probably a year or more. On similar projects, after construction, there have been 200 to 300 high paying mining jobs.”

The area could also expect the creation of related jobs in the form of support positions at the mine, along with increased consumer activity.

“When a new mine comes to a community, there’s another 250 jobs created that support the jobs at the mine, more hardware to fix the house, more groceries, more jobs in the community that aren’t directly related to the mine, but support the people who work at the mine and support the mine functions,” he said.

As the rare earth element industry picks up speed, the UW is working new systems for mining and production, Qullinan said.

“The School of Energy Resources is hoping to develop methodologies for the entire supply chain of rare earth materials, methodologies for exploration and mining, separation and processing, beneficiation or enriching materials, as well as value-added processes, business plans, economics, and workforce development,” he said. “We want to develop a wells-to-wheels type of program.”

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Fed Law Enforcement Warns Russian Hackers Could Target Wyoming Critical Infrastructure

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Federal law enforcement officials are warning that Russian hackers are targeting refineries, pipelines, power grids and other critical energy infrastructure in the United States, including in Wyoming.

However, historically, the weather has posed a bigger  threat to Wyoming’s energy infrastructure than hackers, according to records.

In late March, the Department of Energy and other federal agencies issued a joint Cybersecurity Advisory (CSA) warning regarding state-sponsored Russian cyberattacks on the energy sector in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The warning follows an investigation by the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that identified multiple targeted attacks on the energy infrastructure between 2011 and 2018.

Pipelines have historically been a target of hackers, according to Ryan McConnaughey, communications director for the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW), who pointed to the 2021 ransomware on the Texas-based Colonial Pipeline that was tied to a Russia-linked cybercrime network.

So far, to McConnaughey’s knowledge, Wyoming’s energy sector has not been hit by Russian or other hackers.

“The individual energy companies and industry as a whole and their partners work with CISA and DOE to look into the future to try to mitigate the risks,” he said.

The warning of heightened concerns by the federal government doesn’t come as a surprise, he noted, adding that the industry has people working on cybersecurity on a full-time basis to prevent such attacks and that the companies regularly work together to share information about potential threats.

Historically, records show the biggest threat to Wyoming’s energy sector has been thunderstorms and lightning.

Between 2009 and 2019, thunderstorms and lightning accounted for $7 million in overall property loss each year, according to an Energy Sector Risk Profile prepared by the DOE. During this time, the state had eight major disaster declarations.

The second largest hazard was floods, with 19 accounting for $3 million in damage each year during that same period.

The third largest cause of damage to the infrastructure was wildfires. The federal reported that between 2009 and 2019, the state saw five fire management assistance declarations. Fire damages to the infrastructure are estimated at $2 million per year.

Potential Targets

In terms of its energy infrastructure, Wyoming has 27 electric utilities, 28 natural gas processing facilities and two liquefied natural gas plants with a storage of 6,051 barrels, per the report.

Additionally, as of 2018, there were 6,838 miles of natural gas transmission pipelines and 5,429 miles of natural gas distribution pipelines running through the state.

Between 1984 and 2019, the report stated that the largest disturbance to the state’s natural gas distribution system came from unknown events and outside forces while the gas was being shipped via pipelines.

In addition to gas lines, as of 2018, Wyoming had 4,257 miles of crude oil pipelines and an additional 1,379 miles of pipelines for refined products.

The report cited no cyberattacks on any of the state’s energy infrastructure.

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Booming Oil Prices Means Good News, Bad News For Wyoming

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

Rising oil prices could be a boon for Wyoming’s economy in the short-term, but if sustained, they could push consumers away from fossil fuel usage quicker than previously predicted, according to economists. 

“We might be making hay while the sun is shining, but unintentionally, we might also be shortening the summer,” said Rob Godby, a University of Wyoming Economics Department associate professor. “The longer we benefit from high oil and gas prices, the more likely the structural decline of oil reliance will come even sooner.” 

As a result of the war in Ukraine, the price of oil, measured by the barrel, has risen steadily since the end of February. As of Thursday, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) – the benchmark crude oil for North America – priced a barrel at about $102, according to www.oilprice.com

Although WTI barrel prices are down from a high of about $124 early in March, the current prices are significantly higher than those seeen at the beginning of 2022, when WTI priced a barrel at about $80. Prior to the pandemic, WTI’s price per barrel was about $60.

“These are surprise revenues for the state, which is good news,” Godby said. “But the question is how long can they last? And will local producers respond with increased production?” 

Biding time

Prior to 2020, about 30 oil rigs were operating in Wyoming, said Wenlin Liu, a chief economist for the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information.

At the beginning of 2022, only about 15 rigs were in operation, and Liu said those numbers haven’t increased despite rising oil prices, showing uncertainty in how long the price hikes will last. 

“Before the pandemic, every time oil prices increased, U.S. producers responded quickly,” Liu said. “Now, they are responding slowly. They’re not sure how long this higher price is viable.”

Oil prices skyrocketed as a result of sanctions on Russian oil producers, who supplied most of Western Europe. While the U.S. has oil to meet European and American demands, it’s not the only player on the field. 

The Middle East-based Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) could bring more oil to the European market, filling the gap left by the absence of Russian oil and significantly lowering prices, Godby said. 

“Oil companies have been very reticent to increase their production,” he said. “They’ve been careful not to flood the market.”

In 2020, a lack of oil demand and oversupply on the global market sent barrel prices plummeting to about negative $37 per barrel WTI.

“Firms have been patient this time around,” Godby said. “Even if they wanted to expand production right now, high transportation costs and material shortages could be prohibitive. Those supply chain issues are real.” 

Another factor in the oil producers’ decision-making process is the fact that most of Wyoming’s available oil exists under federal lands. As the nations of the world scramble to address climate change, Liu said oil producers have to weigh the risks of setting up on land that could soon be subject to shifting environmental policies at the federal level.

Finding Workers

Building rigs is one challenge, manning them is another, Liu explained. 

During the pandemic, Americans left the labor market by the tens of millions, many of them never to return. Those workers were largely “Baby Boomers” who were close to retiring or working beyond the average retirement age, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. 

“Across the nation, labor force participation is swinging back,” Liu said. “But Wyoming has a higher proportion of Baby Boomers, many of whom were drawn to the state by the mid-80s oil boom.”

Labor force participation rates refer to the percentage of the country’s civilian, non-institutional population ages 16 and older who are actively working or looking for work. 

The U.S. experienced a significant drop in participation rates during the pandemic, and although numbers nationally have not quite returned to pre-pandemic levels, national labor force participation is rebounding at a much quicker rate than Wyoming – leaving even fewer potential workers for oil companies to man new rigs. 

Declining birth rates and increasing retirements also mean fewer workers available in the future, Liu said. 

In addition, in the five years leading up to 2020, droves of younger workers fled the state for the economic stability of metropolitan areas, Liu said.

“States are now in competition for their labor force,” Liu said.  

Wyoming’s trend of declining population reversed itself in 2020 and the number of state residents has slowly increased as people flee high-density metropolitan areas, but Liu said the population increase isn’t likely enough to significantly offset the downward trend of Wyoming’s labor force participation.  

Hurting Consumers

Wyoming collects taxes on oil based on the first time it is sold after extraction, Godby said. 

As a result, based on the price per barrel at the time of the transaction, March tax revenues will be higher than anticipated, he said. 

“This is a windfall to the state in terms of revenues,” Godby added. “The longer the prices stay higher, the more the benefits stack for the state. But we don’t expect this boom in fossil fuel usage to last forever.”

In addition, what’s good for oil producers isn’t always good for consumers. 

Soaring gas prices could make people less likely to travel. Higher transportation costs also directly affect the price of goods and services. 

With inflation at nearly 8% – the biggest spike since 1982 – the boon of additional tax revenue could be overshadowed by the impact on Wyoming’s lowest-earning residents.    

“The average consumer is really being hurt by this,” Godby said. 

Many economists are skeptical these prices will hold out for long, Liu said.

But even if prices hold strong, the sun is setting on the fossil fuel age.  

“As for the long term, many countries are working to lower their demand for fossil fuels,” Liu said. “It’s only a matter of time before oil is no longer a reliable revenue stream for Wyoming.” 

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Australian Mining Company Says Uranium Deposits Cover Several Miles In Red Desert

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

An Australian uranium company exploring in southwest Wyoming on Monday reported finding what appear to be uranium deposits covering several miles in the Great Divide Basin.

GTI Resources, which just completed a round of exploratory drilling in the Great Divide Basin, posted to its Twitter account Monday a map featuring “roll front trend,” or uranium deposits its drilling revealed.  

The post notes 17,640 feet — about 3.3 miles — “of mineralized roll fronts found,” with 80% of the project area still to be tested.  

A follow-up drilling process is planned.  

GTI’s 100-hole probe known as the Thor project, in northwestern Sweetwater County, began late November 2021 and was completed on schedule in mid-March despite seasonal wildlife restrictions pertaining to sage grouse.  

GTI announced earlier this month that it had found a likely source of raw uranium or “yellowcake” through its exploration. The company told Cowboy State Daily at the time that it planned to announce by mid-April just how much uranium the area might contain.

Colorado Company Gearing Up 

GTI’s properties roughly surround the Lost Creek project, which is the domain of Colorado company UR Energy.  

UR Energy reported that its own exploration indicated the presence of 11.9 million pounds of uranium, with another 6.6 million pounds “inferred” by the exploration.

The report, noted UR Energy in a separate caveat, is speculative.  

UR Energy secured an additional six mine units on the Lost Creek license in 2021, bringing the total to nine. According to its company website, UR Energy expects to have permits and authorizations for production completed sometime this year – along with an increase in its maximum extraction allowance.  

“As we await the return of a robust uranium market, we have prepared (a mining unit) and the Lost Creek plant for an efficient transition to full production rates,” the website said.

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Barrasso, Cheney Say No To Gas Stimulus Check

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

It makes more sense to encourage domestic oil production than use provide a “stimulus check” to American consumers to help them cope with current gas prices, according to U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney and U.S. Sen John Barrasso.

 The “Gas Rebate Act,” a bill proposed by three congressional Democrats, would provide a monthly energy rebate of $100 per person. The refund would kick in for the rest of 2022 as long as the national average gas price topped $4 a gallon during any given month. 

Wyoming’s average gas price as of Monday was $4.08 per gallon, below the national average of $4.234 for a gallon of regular.

Cheney told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the clear solution to rising gas prices is to unleash American domestic energy production.

“In Wyoming and across the country, we have the resources and capabilities to increase production so we can regain  American energy independence, provide crucial resources for our allies around the world, and reduce gas prices and energy costs  hardworking families are facing,” she said. 

Barrasso, speaking during a news conference last week, agreed U.S. oil production must be increased.

“We are still 1.3 million barrels a day less being made in the United States now than during the pandemic,” he said. “We need to get that up and whether it’s checks, gas cards, any of those things, that doesn’t contribute to the solution of having more available energy for Americans to buy when they go shopping.”

U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Cowboy State Daily.

Another proposed Democrat-led bill, the “Big Oil Windfall Profits Tax” would charge a per barrel tax equal to 50% of the difference between the current price of a barrel of oil and its pre-pandemic average price between 2015 to 2019.

The lawmakers calculated that if the per barrel price sits at $120, the tax would raise about $45 billion a year, which would provide single tax filers with $240 annually and joint filers with $360 each year. 

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Survey Shows Overwhelming Support For Oil, Gas Production In Wyoming, Even Democrats

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

Oil and natural gas production in Wyoming is supported by an overwhelming majority of state residents questioned in a statewide survey, including 68% of Democrats polled.

The biennial poll conducted in February, commissioned by the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, was designed to analyze oil and gas exploration attitudes among state residents.  

PAW reported that of the 500 residents contacted in a random telephone survey conducted prior the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 88% approved of oil and natural gas production in Wyoming.  

Of the Democrats surveyed, 68% said they approved of oil and gas production. In addition, 54% of the Democrats said they believe drilling efforts are compatible with nature recreation and preservation endeavors.  

Of the voters identifying themselves as independent, 74% backed oil and gas production in the state, while 95% of Republicans polled voiced approval.  

Restrictions 

But viewpoints on current federal restrictions on the industry varied widely across party lines, according to the survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5%.

Only 16% of Democrats questioned said there were too many regulations on oil and gas production. Another 38% said there were too few regulations and 39% stated the regulations were about right.  

Among Republicans, conversely, 61% said restrictions on production were excessive, compared with just 5% complaining of too few, and 29% stating the restrictions are about right as they are.  

In total, 51% of Wyoming voters from all party affiliations said restrictions on production were excessive, which PAW stated was a 19% increase from 2020.  

Under the Biden Administration, new oil and gas leasing on federal lands has effectively halted and thousands of permitting requests are backlogged.  

Economic Support 

A majority of those questioned, 86%, agreed with the statement that oil and gas drilling supports the local economy, the survey said.

“The belief that local economies receive a great deal of benefit saw strong support across demographics including a plurality of registered Democrats and self-identifying liberal voters,” read’s PAW’s survey analysis. 

“Seventy-four percent (74%) of voters agree that increasing the use of natural gas is the best way to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change without disruptions to everyday life,” the survey said, “while more than two-thirds of voters (68%) are unwilling to pay more for energy to curb climate change.”  

Party Makeup 

Respondents to the poll, wrote PAW, were “a representative cross-section of likely voters in Wyoming” including 52% women, 48% men; 70% Republican, 16% Democrat, and 11% Independent/Other.  

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Company Building Nuke Plant in Kemmerer Now Says They Won’t Use Russian Uranium

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy Statev Daily

The company installing a nuclear power plant in Kemmerer will not be using Russian uranium, company officials told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

Earlier this month, officials said they initially would be using uranium imported from Russia, although this was not an ideal situation for them.

This is not the case any longer, TerraPower director of external affairs Jeff Navin told Cowboy State Daily on Friday.

“We will not be using Russian uranium in the Natrium reactor in Wyoming,” Navin said. “TerraPower is actively investing in the domestic supply chain for its fuel and working with elected leaders to develop more support for American enrichment. This work is having a positive effect in Congress and we will continue to work on this urgent issue.”

Earlier this month, Navin said that the company was in a problematic situation, as the only facility that can produce commercial quantities of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is owned and operated by Tenex and Russia.

“Recognizing this gap in the supply chain, last year, TerraPower allocated funds within the Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program proposal … to help create an American competitor to Tenex, and we are working with Congress and the Department of Energy to expedite the development of domestic enrichment capability,” Navin said.

“This investment has helped support the only facility in the United States currently licensed to produce HALEU, although they do not yet have the capability to produce HALEU at commercial levels,” he said.

The Natrium power plant will use fuel rods manufactured with HALEU metallic fluid. This uranium will allow the reactor to operate more efficiently and reduces the volume of waste produced.

This week, Wyoming’s delegation spoke out against the United States’ reliance on Russian energy, including uranium.

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney told Wyoming reporters on Wednesday that she was working on legislation that would ban the import of Russian uranium.

According to the Wyoming Mining Association, Wyoming has around 450 million pounds of uranium in reserves, although the resource varies in price. About one pound of uranium can produce the same amount of power as 20,000 pounds of coal.

The Natrium power plant, a “next generation” nuclear plant, is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.

According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.

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Global Mining Business Finds Significant Deposits Of Uranium In Wyoming’s Red Desert

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By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily

A global mining business says it has found significant deposits of uranium in Wyoming’s Red Desert.  

GTI Resources discovered a likely source of raw uranium, or yellowcake, through a first-time exploratory drill program called the “Thor” project in the Great Divide Basin, said Bruce Lane, GTI Resources director.

Lane added the geological and political landscapes would appear to encourage development.

“We’re confident we have established there’s a mineralized system here,” Lane told Cowboy State Daily.

Lane hoped to release an official report by mid-April that will detail how much uranium the area might contain. 

Wyoming’s geologic structure, said the director, is ideal for in-situ leach mining – a relatively “clean” process using water and baking soda to pump uranium deposits from drilled holes.  

The next step, said Lane, will be for GTI to “follow this drilling program with another drilling program of higher intensity” to further identify the yellowcake presence and develop an “economic model” around it before tackling the official permitting process.  

The permitting process for uranium production, said Lane, is “onerous – as it should be” to address environmental concerns.  

Lane said this initial discovery of sandstone-embedded uranium in southern Wyoming comes amid the industry’s first optimistic phase in more than a decade.  

“Uranium mining in the States has really collapsed in the last decade, so in the last few years there’s been no mining at all,” said Lane, noting that Kazakhstan flooded the global market nearly two decades ago with cheap uranium which, at about $20 per pound, drove out established producers and stalled Wyoming ventures.  

Lane also bemoaned the 2010 sale of Uranium One assets to Russian nuclear power giant Rosotom – a move that was approved by then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton which transferred 20% of U.S. uranium reserves into Russian control.  

“It’s quite incredible to think… somebody decided in the administration that that was a good idea,” said Lane.  

With the transfer, Russia took over much of the global uranium enrichment services for turning raw yellowcake into refined uranium, Lane said, adding that now there is “some enrichment in the U.S.” 

A Trump-era report by the National Nuclear Security Administration stated the U.S. in 2019 did “not have domestic uranium enrichment capability,” prompting the Navy to use national stockpiles for the propulsion of its nuclear-powered vessels.  

Foreign Chaos 

But the tides turned in January, when civil unrest in Kazakhstan prompted Russia-aided communications and travel shutdowns that quelled both civilian protests and uranium production in the small central-Asian country. Kazakhstan had been producing more than 40 percent of the world’s uranium supply.  

Prices surged to $45 per pound in January and $55 on Wednesday evening.  

Consumers, or “utilities,” said Lane, may find it “better for them to seek uranium from a more politically stable place than Kazakhstan.”  

The Russian-Ukraine conflict now waging, Lane added, could further cement “the strategic issues with buying out of the Russian block, and Chinese-block-aligned suppliers.”  

Kazakhstan, Russian, and Uzbekistan accounted for 47% of the total uranium purchased by U.S. civilian operators in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Canada and Australia together were the second-largest sources for American buyers, providing about 34% of the supply.

America’s export rate was not as voluminous or as lucrative:  

U.S. buyers bought 39.6 million pounds of uranium from foreign sources at an average $33.79 per pound in 2020 – but domestic producers only sold 9.9 million pounds, at an average price of $29.57 per pound, the EIA reported.  

Energy Independence 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine provoked criticism and calls by Wyoming’s three Congressional delegates for bans and sanctions on Russian products.  

“Now you’ve got Liz Cheney banging the desk and demanding that Russia be sanctioned, and that uranium be sanctioned as well, and oil and whatever else,” said Lane. 

Shifting that pressure to meet the demand for uranium back onto American suppliers, he continued, is a “wakeup call, that the U.S. domestic uranium supplier used to be the world’s leading supplier business – and it’s been decimated, and effectively collapsed.” 

“But I believe there’s a renaissance underway,” he added.  

Clean Power 

Lane referenced an increasing demand for clean energy.  

“Emissions-free electricity can’t all come from windmills and solar power,” he said, due in part to their intermittent nature and “network issues.”  

India, France, South Korea, Japan, and many other jurisdictions are “doubling down” on nuclear power, Lane added.

Uranium mining is not without its environmental risks, he said, as some producers will use harsh chemicals to extract the yellowcake. But Wyoming’s sandstone-hosted deposits, he said, allowed for the cleaner alternative of in-situ extraction.  

Wyoming Hands on Deck 

Australia-based GTI Resources, said Lane, is employing Wyoming workers.  

“We don’t have exploration staff and filed staff employed in the U.S., so we work with partners in the U.S… (and) we absolutely would use and would prefer to use local, Wyoming expertise. I don’t imagine why we would want to bring anyone in from out of state,” he said. “These guys are trustworthy and reliable.”  

Lane also praised the Wyoming Legislature for its exploration-friendly policies.  

“I’ve worked in a number of different jurisdictions across the world, and it’s really good to work with people in your part of the world,” said Lane. BRS Engineering, which is based in Riverton, helped GTI choose exploration targets in Wyoming and in Utah.  

“For the Thor project,” said Doug Beahm, principal engineer for BRS, “we planned and permitted the drilling through the (Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality) Land Quality Division and (Bureau of Land Management).” 

With permits in place, BRS managed drilling, completing 100 exploratory drill holes on the Thor project this winter.  

“We did not get the permit until late November 2021 and had to complete the drilling prior to March 15,” said Beahm, due to seasonal wildlife restrictions pertaining to sage grouse. 

But the project was completed on time.  

“GTI has additional claim groups in the Great Divide Basin of Wyoming and we will be evaluating whether to continue the drilling program at Thor or expand the program to the other claim groups or do both,” Beahm said.  

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Barrasso Says American, Not Russian, Uranium Needed To Power Kemmerer Plant

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

American uranium should be the fuel source for a nuclear power plant proposed near Kemmerer, U.S. Sen. John Barrasso said Thursday

Barrasso told his Senate collegues the United States needs to end its reliance on Russia for certain energy sources, such as uranium.

“Russia is our third-largest supplier of uranium, meeting 16% of U.S. demand. We need to eliminate our dependence on Russian uranium,” Barrasso said Thursday during hearings into the nomination of Kathryn Huff to serve as assistant secretary for Nuclear Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. “We also need immediate action to develop an American supply of high-assay, low-enriched uranium. This is the fuel needed for advanced nuclear reactors, like TerraPower’s Natrium reactor, which will be built in my home state of Wyoming.”

TerraPower has said it has no choice but to use nuclear fuel rods created in Russia because there are no domestic suppliers of the rods. The company is working to develop a domestic source for the rods.

The Natrium power plant will use fuel rods manufactured with HALEU metallic fluid. This uranium will allow the reactor to operate more efficiently and reduces the volume of waste produced.

Barrasso joined U.S. Sen. Cynthia Lummis and two other senators on Thursday in introducing legislation that would ban the import of Russian uranium, a move that would cut Natrium’s supply of fuel.

Barrasso spokeswoman Gaby Hunt told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday that while American uranium fuel production probably won’t be sufficient to provide the initial fuel load for Natrium, expected to begin operations in 2027 or 2028, Barrasso is working to make sure domestic uranium sources will be available in the future. Hunt said Barrasso is looking at supplementing the domestic supply with fuel produced by the DOE until commercial production is sufficient to meet the demand.

Barrasso and Lummis agreed it makes little sense to help finance Russian aggression in Ukraine with purchases of fuel, including uranium.

“The time is now to permanently remove all Russian energy from the American marketplace,” Barrasso said. “We know Vladimir Putin uses this money to help fund his brutal and unprovoked war in Ukraine. While banning imports of Russian oil, gas and coal is an important step, it cannot be the last. Banning Russian uranium imports will further defund Russia’s war machine, help revive American uranium production, and increase our national security.”

Lummis added that it was “imperative” that the United States cut off all Russian imports, including uranium.

“Every dollar we send to Russia is a dollar used to continue to attack innocent people in Ukraine,” she said. “Wyoming has more than enough uranium to fill this gap, and we can mine it in a more environmentally friendly and safe way.”

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney told Wyoming reporters on Wednesday that she was also working to introduce similar legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

According to the Wyoming Mining Association, Wyoming has around 450 million pounds of uranium in reserves, although the resource varies in price. About one pound of uranium can produce the same amount of power as 20,000 pounds of coal.

WMA spokesman Travis Deti did not return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Thursday.

The Natrium power plant, a “next generation” nuclear plant, is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.

According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.

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Daily Wyoming Gas Map: Tuesday, March 15, 2022

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By Tim Mandese, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s average gasoline price dropped slightly on Monday, declining by 2 cents per gallon over the previous 24 hours for an average of $3.98 per gallon.

The website GasBuddy.com, which tracks national gas prices, reported Wyoming’s average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline was up 7.2 cents from one week ago and up $1.17 per gallon from one year ago.

Wyoming’s average price for gasoline remained below the national average of $4.31.

The average price per gallon of regular in each Wyoming county: 

Albany $3.84; Big Horn $3.99; Campbell $3.980; Carbon $3.94; Converse $3.85; Crook $3.99; Fremont $4.03; Goshen $3.93; Hot Springs $4.00; Johnson $3.99; Laramie $3.94; Lincoln $4.20; Natrona $3.88; Niobrara $3.99; Park $4.13; Platte, $3.99; Sheridan $3.95; Sublette $4.10; Sweetwater $3.97; Teton $4.10; Uinta $4.40; Washakie $3.99; and Weston $3.99. 

The lowest price per gallon, reported in major Wyoming cities:

Basin $4.13; Buffalo $3.50; Casper $3.79; Cheyenne $3.75; Cody $4.07; Douglas $3.78; Evanston $4.19; Gillette $3.86; Jackson $4.18; Kemmerer $4.29; Laramie $3.84; Lusk $4.19; New Castle $3.89; Pinedale $4.05; Rawlins $3.89; Riverton $3.98; Rock Springs $3.75; Sheridan $3.81; Sundance $3.99; Thermopolis $3.97; Wheatland $3.98; Worland $4.04.

The lowest reported average price was $3.75 in Cheyenne, while the highest was in Uinta County at $4.40 per gallon.

Note: Prices in this report are for reference only. They are gathered the evening before posting, and may not reflect prices that have changed since last posted.

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Officials Believe It’s ‘Unlikely’ Wyoming Gas Prices Will Hit $5

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Despite gas prices hitting a record peak last week, it is unlikely the price of a gallon of regular unleaded gasoline will hit $5 in Wyoming, two experts told Cowboy State Daily this week.

University of Wyoming economics Professor Rob Godby and Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association Executive Director Grier Bailey told Cowboy State Daily that barring some chaotic world event, neither believed that gas prices would increase all the way to $5.

Godby pointed out that although the gas price record was technically broken last week, if adjusted for inflation, the $4.11 high in 2008 would convert to about $5.20 today.

“So when you adjust for inflation, we’re still not at a record level, and we’d have to be over $5 a gallon to hit that level and feel the same impact the way we did 14 years ago when we hit the highest prices,” he told Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “

The professor did say it was possible for one, two or a handful of gas stations to set their prices at $5 per gallon or higher, but the statewide average will likely not cross the $5 line.

“Oil prices are hovering around $100 a barrel, so they’re beginning to settle down,” he said. “That reflects the fact that the world is coming to terms, a little bit, with the uncertainty of the war [between Russian and Ukraine]. There was a lot of panic-buying early on when we hit $130 per barrel.”

Godby noted that gas prices tend to go up faster than they come down, but added he expected the prices to level off, if not decrease somewhat, in coming weeks.

According to AAA, Wyoming’s average gas price was $4.02 per gallon Tuesday, with the most expensive prices being found in Uinta and Teton counties, more than $4.20 per gallon.

The national average for gas prices is $4.31 per gallon.

Bailey told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that Wyoming gasoline prices are being kept relatively low by state policies.

“The Wyoming Legislature and administration have a balanced energy policy and the cost of fuels for Wyoming families and businesses should remain lower than the rest of the country,” he said. “Compared to states like Colorado, where the administration is likely to move forward with a 45-cent increase through state-supported federal action, Wyoming families can take comfort. The cost of crude oil remains the primary driver of prices, with a growing percentage exacerbated partially due to speculative commodity trading, which should abate as prices stabilize.”

Bailey added that the “silly and family-devastating prices” seen in states like California and Colorado were being skewed by “punitive and unnecessary” government regulation, which Wyoming’s policies guard against.

California’s gas price average is $5.75 per gallon on Tuesday, according to AAA. Nevada’s average gas prices were just a few cents short of $5 at $4.96 per gallon.

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Gordon: New Nuclear Reactor Needs To Run on Wyoming, Not Russian, Uranium

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming needs a domestic source of uranium to supply a proposed nuclear reactor near Kemmerer, Gov. Mark Gordon said Monday.

TerraPower, the company planning to install a small nuclear reactor in Kemmerer, told Cowboy State Daily last month that it has no choice but to fuel its plant with nuclear fuel rods from Russia, but officials said they are also working to cultivate domestic uranium sources.

Such a domestic source could be converted into a “wonderful” source of energy while reducing waste, Gordon said.

“Currently our nuclear resources come from Russia, and we need to make sure that we have a domestic source of uranium just like we used to,” he said. “We’re very anxious to see the project move forward. We’re really hoping that this helps to revitalize Wyoming’s very important uranium industry.”

Last summer, Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced the Natrium plant, a “next generation” nuclear plant would be built in Wyoming by 2027 or 2028. The reactor is expected to generate 345 megawatts of power.

The proposed reactor would use technology developed by TerraPower, and would result in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.

On Monday, TerraPower officials announced that the company received a federal $8.5 million grant to support research into a method to recover uranium from used nuclear fuel.

TerraPower officials have said the plant will only be able to use a type of uranium fuel rod made in Russia, although the company is working to cultivate other sources inside the United States.

The Natrium power plant will use fuel rods manufactured with HALEU metallic fluid. This uranium will allow the reactor to operate more efficiently and reduces the volume of waste produced.

In addition to trying to build up American producers of HALEU, TerraPower is investing in an American company to produce the fuel rods, officials said.

According to project estimates, approximately 2,000 workers will be needed for plant construction at the project’s peak. Once the plant is operational, approximately 250 people will support day-to-day activities, including plant security.

TerraPower did not immediately return Cowboy State Daily’s request for comment on Monday.

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Duke Energy: No Answers Yet On Why 262-Foot Wind Turbine Collapsed Near Cheyenne

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

An energy company is continuing to investigate the collapse of one of its wind turbines near Cheyenne last month, an event a University of Wyoming expert called very rare.

Duke Energy spokeswoman Valerie Patterson told Cowboy State Daily on Monday that the investigation being conducted is a detailed and deliberative process so company officials will be able to understand what happened, learn from the incident and prevent it from happening again.

“Cleanup efforts are being conducted by site personnel, our engineering team and a third-party engineering firm,” she said. “A complete and thorough cleanup of the area will be done to restore the area to its original condition.”

The 262-foot turbine collapsed in late February. No one was injured.

Patterson previously told Cowboy State Daily that after the investigation was completed, Duke officials would decide whether to repair or replace the turbine. There was no timeline on when that would occur, though.

Wind turbines are built to operate anywhere from 20 to 30 years, but the lifespan could vary.

University of Wyoming Professor Jonathan Naughton, director of the Wind Energy Research Center, told Cowboy State Daily that the likelihood of a wind turbine failing catastrophically is low.

“I’ve only heard of two ‘catastrophic’ incidents happening in Wyoming since these wind turbines went in, this one on Happy Jack and one other,” he said. “There are about 1,500 turbines in Wyoming, so one failure out of 1,500, that’s not a bad number from an industry pe