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Gov Gordon, Bill Gates Announce Wyoming Chosen As Site For Next Generation Nuclear Power Plant

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

One of Wyoming’s retiring coal-fired power plants could be the home to a nuclear power demonstration plant, Gov. Mark Gordon and other officials announced Wednesday.

Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced they are working to build a “Natrium” reactor demonstration plant in Wyoming that will use uranium produced by the state.

“Today’s announcement is really, truly game changing and monumental for Wyoming,” Gordon said during a news conference.

The Natrium technology has been developed by TerraPower, a nuclear power innovation company founded by software developer Bill Gates, and GE Hitachi, according to a news release from the state, TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power.

The technology results in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.

The plant to be built in Wyoming will generate 345 meagwatts, according to the release, but will also be able to store enough energy to generate 500 megawatts of power for more than five hours.

The plant will be built at one of Rocky Mountain Power’s existing coal power plants near Rock Springs, Glenrock, Kemmerer or Gillette, according to Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of the power company. The location should be decided by the end of the year, he said.

He added the plant and others like it that are planned for the future will help the company guarantee it can provide a constant source of power.

“We are currently building a lot of wind and solar plants,” he said. “But we know as a utility, like everyone else does, you can’t do 100% renewable and battery power 24/7/365. That’s what’s so exciting about this. It will allow us to provide carbon-free electricity 24/7/365.”

The company has announced it will be retiring some of its older power plants and Gordon said the power plant project will help employ workers left without jobs by the move.

“It is expected the jobs for operation of the plant will be comparable in number, salary and benefits to jobs at coal-fired plants,” he said.

In addition to helping Rocky Mountain Power and its parent company PacifiCorp meet its goals for reducing its use of carbon-based fuels to generate electricity, the plant fits in with the goal of President Joe Biden’s administration to reduce carbon emissions, said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, who joined the news conference by video.

“This reactor shows the future of nuclear energy is here,” she said. “It’s got a simpler design, it is going to create a smaller footprint and it is equipped with next-generation safety measures.”

The plant will have to win approval for construction from several regulatory agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and officials are hoping to have it completed in 2027 or 2028.

According to a website created for the project, WyomingAdvancedEnergy.com, waste from spent nuclear fuel will be stored at the reactor site until a permanent national waste repository can be developed.

If the plant is approved, it will be the first commercial nuclear power plant built in the United States since 1977.

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Uranium Producers Welcome News Of Bill Gates’ Nuclear Power Plant In Wyoming

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

News of the possible construction of a demonstration nuclear power plant in Wyoming is being welcomed by the state’s uranium producers.

The plant proposed by TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power is being hailed not only as a new consumer of uranium, but as proof the country can resume development of nuclear power plants, said Travis Deti, director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

“What we see this project doing is jump starting the American nuclear industry,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “This is a great market indictor for uranium producers that the United States is finally getting serious about upgrading its nuclear fleet. More consumers is good news for our producers.”

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Wednesday that TerraPower would begin work to build an $80 million “Natrium” reactor at the site of one of Rocky Mountain Power’s coal-fired power plants.

Officials with Rocky Mountain Power and TerraPower, founded by software engineer Bill Gates, have said they hope to have a site chosen for the plant by the end of this year. Rocky Mountain Power officials said plans call for construction to be completed by 2027 to 2028.

During his announcement Wednesday, Gordon said the plant would use uranium from Wyoming, still the nation’s top uranium producer at 173,000 pounds in 2019.

America’s uranium industry went into a slump in the 1980s with a decline in demand for the radioactive element as fuel for nuclear power plants. Today, most of the country’s uranium comes from Canada and Kazakhstan.

But Deti said the more important aspect of the development is that the plant’s success will encourage the construction of other plants elsewhere.

“Our operations are in a holding pattern to see when markets pick up,” he said. “I think this will be a good shot in the arm, it will show there is going to be a need for this fuel. Once it is up and running and proven successful, we see the construction of a lot more. That means the fuel is going to have to come from somewhere. Wyoming producers are ready, willing and able to meet that demand.”

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Wyoming’s Numbers Putting Mining Job Losses At 25% Are Misleading, Mining Assoc Says

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By Elyse Kelly | The Center Square contributor 6 hrs ago 

Wyoming’s mining industry lost 4,900 jobs — a 25.3% reduction — from March 2020 to March 2021, according to a recent report by the Wyoming Economic Analysis Division.

But those numbers are a bit misleading, according to Wyoming Mining Association Executive Director Travis Deti, who said they also include employment losses for oil and gas.

“When you’re talking about mining in Wyoming, we’ve got what you call our four big sectors and those are: coal, uranium, bentonite and trona,” Deti told The Center Square. “Those are actual mining jobs and outside of oil and gas. When you’re looking at those particular numbers, we lost just shy of 700 jobs in the past year.”

Broken down individually, coal lost approximately 570 jobs, 95 were lost in the bentonite sector, 20 jobs were lost in trona, and uranium actually added 15 jobs, according to Deti.

Losses in coal were exacerbated by the pandemic, but also reflective of the sector’s continued decline since 2012 due to market pressure from a decline in coal usage by utilities, along with low natural gas prices, coal’s biggest competitor, according to Deti.

“Analysts say they are predicting an uptick in coal production so we expect some of those jobs to come back, probably not all of them, I would say, but some of those jobs are going to come back,” he said.

There is no doubt in Deti’s mind that bentonite will recover as it has been dubbed “the clay of 10,000 uses.”  

Much of it is used in the drilling process, in addition to cat litter and cosmetics.

“So our bentonite industry is around for a long time — we’re not going to be stopping mining bentonite,” he said.

Trona’s losses were directly attributable to the pandemic and the economic shutdown, Deti said. The product goes into different kinds of glass, including auto glass.

“So with the shutdown of the automakers in the Midwest, that took a tremendous impact on the trona industry,” he said. “Our production fell over 40% at the height of the pandemic.”

As the economy opens back up, however, trona will recover quickly, he added. Currently, trona operators are looking to expand, a symptom of that sector’s strength.

While uranium did add a few jobs, overall the price for uranium has been artificially deflated thanks to Russia, Kazakhstan and China flooding the market with state-subsidized production, making it economically unviable to mine uranium in the U.S. 

Deti hopes for a “big boost” from the federal government in the form of a program started by the Trump administration.

“The Trump administration did a study and called for a domestic uranium reserve, to where the government would buy a certain amount of uranium every year,” he said. “We haven’t seen a lot of movement on that yet. We don’t believe that concept is dead under President Biden, and we’re hopeful that will come to fruition.”

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Wyoming Gas Prices Up 65% In Last Year; 4 Cent Increase in Last Week

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While Wyoming has not felt the sting of gasoline shortages seen in the last week in the eastern U.S., its gas prices are still rising in advance of the upcoming three-day holiday.

Figures provided in the regular report by GasBuddy.com, a company that tracks gasoline prices throughout the country, showed that the average price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline in Wyoming on Friday was about $2.97 per gallon, compared to a national average of almost $3.04.

Nationally, prices have gone up by 7.3 cents per gallon in the last week, due in part to disruptions in fuel deliveries caused by the shutdown of a major pipeline feeding the East Coast.

The rise in Wyoming has been less dramatic at 4.1 cents per gallon.

In the last month, Wyoming’s gas prices have increased by 8.3 cents per gallon, while the state has seen a 65% increase in gasoline prices in the last year, from $1.79 on May 14, 2020.

GasBuddy.com reported the demand for gasoline nationally has increased by 74.3% over this time in 2020, when much of the country was brought to a standstill by the coronavirus.

Aldo Vazquez, a spokesman for AAA Mountain West, told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday that demand created by the upcoming Memorial Day holiday will lead to increases in gas prices over the next two weeks.

Wyoming’s highest gas price was found in Teton County at almost $3.28 per gallon, while the lowest price was in Weston County at about $2.70 per gallon.

Nationally, Wyoming’s gasoline prices were the 20th highest in the nation.

The highest gas prices in the nation were in California, with an average of almost $4.13. Mississippi, with an average cost of almost $2.71 per gallon, had the lowest.

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Pipeline Shutdown Won’t Crank Prices in Wyoming

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By Jennifer Kocher, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming drivers will likely not feel the pinch at the pump that has hit many drivers throughout the eastern and southern United States following a weekend ransomware attack on the country’s largest gasoline pipeline.  

The Houston-based Colonial Pipeline, which supplies more than 45% of the fuel used on the East Coast, transports fuel from Texas to New York. When the company closed 5,500 miles of the pipeline following the attack as a precautionary measure, it affected 17 states, including the nation’s capital.

The shutdown led to a spike of up to 6 cents per gallon, bringing the national average price of gas to just under $3 per gallon this week, according to the AAA. The price is just 3 cents per gallon shy of the record fuel prices set in November 2014.

However, in Wyoming, most prices climbed by only 3 cents per gallon in the last week to average almost $2.98 per gallon.

Mark Larson, of the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, said Wyoming is in a good position to weather the impacts of the pipeline shutdown because it is home to four refineries and is a hub for a number of pipelines.

The larger concern for Larson is the cyberattack itself, which he said is the first such attack he’s seen in his 40 years in the industry.

“This is new normal type stuff that we haven’t seen before,” he said. “Infrastructure and cyberattacks have been on the forefront of national security for some time now,  but I was surprised that a pipeline could be impacted.”

Larson and Aldo Vazquez, a spokesman for AAA Mountain West, agreed that the upcoming Memorial Day holiday will have a larger impact on Wyoming’s gas prices.

With 90% of travelers on the weekend expected to drive to their destinations, the increased demand for gasoline will probably force prices up by about 2 cents per gallon, Vazquez said.

“Before the pipeline, AAA predicted that gas prices would increase regionally as summer travel gets underway,” he said.

As of Tuesday, gas prices throughout Wyoming averaged $2.98 per gallon with the cheapest prices at Maverik and Conoco in Newcastle at $2.44 and $2.49 per gallon, respectively, and $2.54 per gallon at a Maverik in Cheyenne.

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UW Professor Receives Prestigious Fulbright Scholarship

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

A University of Wyoming professor has been awarded a prestigious scholarship to conduct research related to changes caused by shifts away from fossil fuels.

School of Energy Resources Professor Tara Righetti has won a Fulbright Scholarship to conduct research at the Center for Legal Research and Perspectives in Law at the University of Lille College of Law in France.

During her 11-month sabbatical from UW, she will collaborate with researchers in Lille to formulate a comparative study of energy, industrial and workforce transition policies in Wyoming and France, with a focus on climate policies, sustainability and the circular economy.

“I am deeply honored to travel to Lille as a Fulbright Scholar,” Righetti said. “The award provides an incredible opportunity to develop new collaborations and research regarding energy transitions.”

Righetti’s current areas of expertise concentrate on legal issues related to split estates, subsurface trespass, energy transition and carbon capture and sequestration. Her proposed project will build upon her current competencies while allowing her to develop new partnerships and expand her research into international and comparative law.

“Professor Righetti is a leader in understanding complex energy policies and determining how Wyoming could be impacted, and identifying potential approaches to overcome negative outcomes,” SER Executive Director Holly Krutka said. “Professor Righetti’s choice to study parallel and diverging energy policies in Wyoming and the Hauts-de-France region is timely and important. I was thrilled to learn of her much-deserved recognition as a Fulbright Scholar.”

Righetti is among 800 U.S. citizens who will conduct research and/or teach abroad for the 2021-22 academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Program.

Fulbright scholars engage in cutting-edge research and expand their professional networks, often continuing research collaborations started abroad and laying the groundwork for forging future partnerships between institutions.

Righetti joined the UW faculty in 2014 and has worked to provide important scholarship for her discipline: informative resources for the Wyoming natural resources community; and educational opportunities for students.

Regularly sought out for her expertise and aid on major energy and carbon storage projects nationwide, she is a renowned expert on U.S. energy law.

In 2018, she was appointed as a trustee-at-large with the Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation and, most recently, she was awarded tenure in the UW College of Law.

“Professor Righetti’s receipt of the Fulbright is an outstanding accomplishment and a unique recognition,” UW College of Law Dean Klint Alexander said. “In this special 75th anniversary year of the Fulbright program, she joins the ranks of many distinguished recipients of this honor who have gone on to become heads of state, judges, ambassadors, foreign ministers and business leaders.”

Alexander added that Righetti’s research in France next year will be an opportunity to work collaboratively with international partners in several fields and to “facilitate engagement between the United States and Europe on energy policy development in the 21st century.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to forge lasting connections between U.S. residents and the people of other countries, counter misunderstandings and help people and nations work together toward common goals.

Fulbright scholars address critical global challenges in all disciplines while building relationships, knowledge and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the U.S. 

Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has enabled more than 390,000 dedicated and accomplished students, scholars, artists, teachers and professionals of all backgrounds to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and to find solutions of shared international concerns.

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Wyoming Asks Court to Force BLM to Resume Oil and Gas Lease Sales

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming officials are asking a federal court to force the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to resume oil and gas lease sales on federal land pending the outcome of the state’s lawsuit against the Interior Department.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced Tuesday that the state has asked the U.S. District Court in Wyoming to issue an injunction allowing oil and gas lease sales to continue while the federal government conducts its review of the federal leasing program.

“This litigation does not challenge the (Interior) secretary’s authority to review the federal oil and gas leasing program,” the motion said. “Instead, Wyoming challenges the secretary’s suspension of federal oil and gas leasing before complying with applicable federal law.”

In his first days in office, Biden issued executive orders that have halted oil and gas leasing on federal land until the leasing program can be reviewed. 

Wyoming in March filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department, alleging the halt to leasing violates a number of federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, and saying it amounts to a “de-facto moratorium” on federal leasing.

The request for an injunction filed Monday said the Interior Department halted lease sales without seeking input from the public or considering all the impacts of such a move.

“Put simply, the (Interior) secretary took a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach to managing federal land by failing to involve the public, provide an explanation, or consider any environmental impacts before suspending the federal oil and gas leasing program,” the motion said.

State officials have said if a halt to leasing remains in place for several years, it could cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars, a fact cited in the motion.

“The secretary’s suspension of federal oil and gas lease sales deprived Wyoming of millions of dollars in revenue afforded to Wyoming by federal law,” it said. “Wyoming’s injury will compound each subsequent quarter the secretary’s suspension of federal leasing remains in place. Wyoming suffers from the lost opportunity cost of not having federal leasing revenues in Fiscal Year 2021 to support its schools, highways and local governments.”

Resuming the leasing program is the only way to solve the problems created by the suspension, the motion concluded.

“A preliminary injunction is necessary to remedy the harms caused by the secretary’s suspension of all federal oil and gas leasing,” the 49-page motion said. “The secretary’s purported unsubstantiated greenhouse gas benefits do not outweigh the public interest in ensuring compliance with federal laws which, in turn, generates substantial revenue for the federal government.”

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Gordon: Energy Moratorium Is Bad For Country, Climate, Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming’s public services will all suffer with the halt in energy development on public lands, Gov. Mark Gordon told a congressional committee Tuesday.

Gordon spoke in front of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, telling the senators why President Joe Biden’s energy moratorium is unnecessary and how the policy is harming Wyoming’s economy.

“This leasing ‘review’ is a crafty way of establishing a moratorium on federal lease sales, making continued progress ever more tenuous, more difficult, and more likely that good-paying, family supporting jobs will migrate somewhere else,” Gordon told the committee. “That is bad for this country, for the climate, and especially for Wyoming.”

In addition to Gordon, testimony came from Vicki Hollub of Occidental Petroleum, Pueblo of Acoma Gov. Brian Vallo and U.S. Bureau of Land Management Deputy Director Nada Culver.

Gordon noted that Wyoming ranks first in natural gas production on public lands and second in oil, and that this production is vital to the funding of schools, health care, public safety and other essential services.

Energy-related tax revenues from public lands in Wyoming totaled $457 million last fiscal year. Approximately $5.7 million of that was due to lease sales, but Wyoming has seen no lease sale revenues this year because of the moratorium.

“Doing something as extraordinarily draconian as we are with the policies of this administration doesn’t give us time to evolve,” Gordon said.  

In his first seven days in office, Biden issued two executive orders that have halted oil and gas leasing on federal lands pending a review of the federal government’s leasing programs. Gordon and a number of western governors wrote letters protesting the moratorium and members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation have also expressed their opposition.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, who invited Gordon to the meeting to testify, also spoke about how the moratorium will hurt the state.

“Wyoming’s energy has powered this nation for decades, but today, Wyoming and the Rocky Mountain West is under attack,” the senator said. “There are benefits that solar and wind will never be able to replicate.”

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Arch Kicks Of 2021 With $6 Million Loss, Reducing PRB Operations

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 By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Arch Resources ended its first quarter of 2021 with a $6 million loss while taking strides to complete its accelerated reclamation plan in the Powder River Basin (PRB), according to a quarterly earnings report released Thursday.

While still a loss, the end of 1Q2021 showcased a $19.3 million improvement over the $25.3 million loss reported for the first quarter of the previous year, an accomplishment the coal giant attributes to the expanding availability of the COVID-19 vaccine and a declining rate of infection across its operations, according to the April 22 report.

“The Arch team maintained its world-class execution in (1Q2021), once again delivering operational excellence in the key areas of cost control, safety, and environmental stewardship,” Paul A. Lang, Arch’s chief executive officer, said in a statement.

This past quarter, Arch’s thermal coal sales came in at 12.3 million tons, about 1.8 million tons less than the amount sold in the final quarter of 2020 (4Q2020), a pattern that the company expects to hold well into the next quarter of 2021 due to still-inflated power plant stockpile levels and low power demand, according to the report.

Earnings from production at Black Thunder, Coal Creek, and the West Elk mines will be used to carry out the coal giant’s long-term accelerated reclamation plan in the PRB, per the report.

“We are methodically harvesting value and cash from our legacy thermal assets while working down our long-term closure obligations in a systemic and measured way,” Lang said in a statement.

The company had previously announced with the release of their 4Q2020 earnings report that it would strive to fulfill existing contracts at Coal Creek Mine throughout 2021 with the intent of closing and reclaiming the mine’s active pit south Gillette in 2022.

This past quarter, Arch spent around $8 million towards retiring Coal Creek Mine and anticipates having 80 percent of the final reclamation and retirement project finished by mid-2022.

Similar plans had been hinted at for Black Thunder Mine in the 4Q2020 earning report, though specific retirement and final reclamation dates have not been released as of April 22.

But in the past few months, nearly $2 million worth of work aimed at shutting down and reclaiming Black Thunder was completed, according to the report.

Systemically shutting down PRB operations aligns with Arch’s strategic shift toward metallurgical products in anticipation of growing steel demands as the global economy intensifies its focus on decarbonization, per the report.

Steel is an important component for urbanization, infrastructure replacement, and the construction of decarbonization tools, according to the report. Those tools could include mass transit systems, wind turbines, and electric vehicles.

“The team’s objective is clear as we drive forward in completing the company’s strategic transition towards steel and metallurgical coal markets while remaining committed to our environmental stewardship across our operations,” Lang said in a statement.

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BLM Cancels Oil & Gas Lease Sales Again; Gordon Says Will Cost Wyoming Millions

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming stands to lose millions of dollars more from this year’s second cancellation of oil and gas lease sales on federal lands, Gov. Mark Gordon said Wednesday.

Gordon criticized the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s announcement Wednesday that it would cancel its second oil and gas lease sale of the year, noting the state usually receives millions of dollars from the sales.

“Over the past eight years, Wyoming has received, on average, $35 million annually from oil and gas lease sales on federal lands,” he said in a statement. “This year, we have received zero, because first and second quarter lease sales have been indefinitely postponed.

The administration of President Joe Biden has ordered a halt to new oil and gas leases pending a review of the government’s lease program.

The BLM canceled its first quarter lease sale, scheduled for March, and on Wednesday announced it would hold no new lease sales at least through June.

The halt does not affect existing leases.

“The announcement … is disappointing, disheartening and not surprising,” Gordon said. “Federal reviews of anything take months, and sometimes years.”

Gordon said the Department of Interior could have conducted the review while allowing quarterly oil and gas lease sales to continue.

“Instead, they chose to tighten the financial choke of revenue that would normally flow to the state from lease sales, all the while refraining from consulting with the very states and communities that are directly impacted by these decision,” he said.

Gordon said he will testify on the issue next week before the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The state has already filed a lawsuit challenging the administration’s halt to lease sales, saying it violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and other regulations.

It asks the U.S. District Court in Wyoming to order the BLM to resume lease sales.

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