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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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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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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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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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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 perspective.”

Naughton added that turbines are not 100% perfect, and malfunctions will and do happen, although they are not usually severe enough to cause a turbine collapse.

He pointed out that no engineered system is 100% perfect, either.

“The overall damage from a turbine falling is pretty small and it’s mainly damages to the owner/operator,” he said. “It’s very unlikely it will hurt somebody. I’ve never heard of an occasion where a wind plant had a failure that had some kind of impact on somebody standing underneath it. They’re just not designed to do.”

Duke Energy has managed the turbine site at Happy Jack since 2008 and runs 14 turbines there currently. The company also operates three other turbine farms in Wyoming: one more in Laramie County and two in Converse County, all of which have been in operation for more than a decade.

Duke provides energy for consumers in North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Florida.

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Kemmerer Nuclear Power Plant To Use Russian Uranium; Legislators Object

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The company planning to install a nuclear power plant in Kemmerer will use Russian uranium in its operation, but its officials are working to cultivate a domestic source of the element.

But the use of Russian uranium is concerning to some Wyoming legislators, who this week tried to amend a state bill setting up the permitting process for the proposed Natrium power plant to prohibit its use while encouraging the use of Wyoming uranium.

The company TerraPower is working to build a small demonstration nuclear reactor at the site of a coal-fired power plant owned by Rocky Mountain Power. Wyoming’s Legislature, through House Bill 131, is updating the regulations that will allow the plant to operate and allow for the storage of nuclear waste.

Jeff Navin, TerraPower’s director of external affairs, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the company is in a quandary, as the only facility that can produce commercial quantities of high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) is owned and operated by Tenex in Russia, which he said was “problematic on a number of levels.”

“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.

In addition to trying to build up American producers of HALEU, TerraPower is investing in an American company to produce the fuel rods, Navin said.

However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Casper, told Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that he was “troubled” by the use of Russian uranium in the reactor. Gray, along with Reps. Karlee Provenza and Trey Sherwood, both D-Laramie, wrote an amendment to House Bill 131 that would have required the plant to use as much Wyoming uranium as possible while prohibiting the use of Russian uranium.

“I’m Wyoming first,” he said. “I’m not for using Russian uranium at this site, and that’s the direction it’s going. It’s wrong.”

Last summer, Gov. Mark 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.

Navin noted that the investment was made with the knowledge that TerraPower could not rely on unstable countries like Russia for advanced reactor fuel, a fact officials recognized even before the Ukraine invasion last week.

“In addition to the strategic and moral imperative to end any reliance on Russian HALEU, creating domestic enrichment capability is the best way to ensure that domestic sources of uranium are used in HALEU production,” Navin said.

“Uranium is a commodity, and HALEU producers will use the lowest cost uranium they can find,” he added. “Shipping uranium halfway around the world is expensive, and for economic and strategic reasons, we shouldn’t expect the Russians to purchase uranium from Wyoming to produce HALEU in Russia.”

He added that TerraPower officials want to see a robust American uranium market driven by free market principles of competition, but that federal support was needed to jumpstart this part of the supply chain.

“The crisis in Ukraine is awakening the world to the need to move beyond Russian sources of energy, and TerraPower does not want Russian HALEU in our reactor,” Navin 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.

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Wyoming, PacifiCorp Strike Deal To Keep Jim Bridger Power Plant Operating

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The state of Wyoming and PacifiCorp have reached an agreement to keep the coal-fired Jim Bridger power plant operational beyond April 30, its slated shutdown date.

Gov. Mark Gordon announced on Thursday that the two groups had reached an agreement to keep Unit 2 of the power plant operational beyond April 30.

PacifiCorp plans to convert Unit 2 and Unit 1 at the power plant to burn natural gas. Unit 2 was to be shut down on April 30, although Unit 1 was not scheduled for immediate shutdown.

Under the agreement reached by the state and power company, Unit 2 will continue operating after April 30 while the state will adhere to Pacificorp’s planned eventual conversion for both units.

The conversion may take up to two years, and it was important to Wyoming officials that both units continued to operate until the conversion is done, Gordon said.

Unit 2 is operating under a suspension order issued by Gordon on Dec. 31, 2021, which allowed continued operation of the unit through April 30.

PacifiCorp has agreed to issue a request for proposal for carbon capture facilities to be added to the power plant’s Units 3 and/or 4.

While not a part of the Jim Bridger power plant agreement, PacifiCorp also agreed to issue a similar request for proposal for Unit 4 of the Dave Johnston Power Plant near Douglas.

The agreement was formalized in a consent decree issued by by a state district court earlier this week. This consent decree ensures PacifiCorp’s compliance with the Regional Haze requirements while the state and power company work to amend the company’s permits and the state’s implementation plan to reflect the conversion of the power units to natural gas.

Gordon said he is confident this agreement represents a sound path forward, and remained hopeful that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will agree. 

“I am cautiously optimistic that this arrangement will actually stick, unlike the earlier agreement in which EPA reversed course,” Gordon said. “There are still procedural steps to take and the public will have opportunities to comment in the future.” 

The consent decree was submitted to EPA Thursday as part of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s comments regarding EPA’s proposed disapproval of the revised state implementation plan.

The state and federal governments in 2020 had agreed to a regional haze program that would allow the plant to continue operating, but after President Joe Biden took office, the EPA reversed its decision and ordered the plant to comply with rules previously in place.

The federal haze program seeks to reduce pollution to increase visibility, which has proved troublesome for the southeastern Wyoming power plant.

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Cheney Introduces Bill To Pay Wyoming For Money Lost Due to Biden’s Oil/Gas Moratorium

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney introduced legislation this week that would compensate Wyoming and other states for millions of dollars in revenue they lost because of President Joe Biden’s oil and gas leasing moratorium enacted earlier this year.

The Payment In Lieu of Lost Resources (PILLR) Act would compensate states for the property rentals, bonuses, royalties and severance taxes lost as a result of a halt on the lease of federal land for energy development issued by the federal government.

“The executive orders signed by President Biden on his first day in office targeting the energy industry were misguided,” Cheney said this week about the bill.

“Not only did these unfair mandates negatively impact the work of energy producers in Wyoming, but they cost our state a key source of revenue that we depend on to educate our kids, support our first responders, and provide for other critical needs,” she said.

“While the best course of action would be to allow new energy leases and permits to move forward unimpeded, the bill I’ve introduced will ensure that citizens in Wyoming and other states that rely on money generated by the energy industry are compensated the full amount of the revenue lost so they can continue to meet the needs of their citizens, despite the Biden Administration’s thoughtless and political agenda,” she continued.

The bill could bring in $100 million in revenue for Wyoming, according to an estimate from University of Wyoming economics professor Dr. Timothy Considine.

Gov. Mark Gordon said he supports the bill.

“Since the inception of the Biden moratorium on federal oil and gas lease sales, I have emphasized that this bad idea would disproportionately affect western states like Wyoming,” Gordon said this week.

“Even though the BLM has begun the scoping process for the lost sales scheduled for the first two quarters of the year, Wyoming and our local counties will not receive any lease bonus bids this calendar year, a loss of millions of dollars. Congresswoman Cheney’s bill is a great start in restoring Wyoming’s lost revenue,” the governor said.

Jim Willox, the chairman of the Wyoming County Commissioners Association, also praised Cheney for her work on this legislation.

“The Wyoming County Commissioners Association applauds Congresswoman Cheney’s efforts to see that states and counties continue to receive royalty payments despite the Biden Administration’s attempt to halt oil and gas leasing on public lands,” Willox said.

“Wyoming relies on these funds to provide essential services, including education, libraries, courthouses and judicial systems, public health and senior centers, safe roads and more. This bill ensures that Wyoming’s counties and communities do not suffer as a result of this Administration’s leasing ban,” he said.

study from the American Petroleum Institute issued in 2020 estimated that $641 million in revenue would be at risk for the State of Wyoming if a federal leasing and development ban were enacted.

A report released last week by the administration of President Joe Biden recommended an overhaul of the system used to lease parcels of federal land for oil and gas drilling to limit areas available for development and increase the cost for companies to drill on public lands and waters, according to NPR.

The report by the Interior Department stopped short of recommending an end to oil and gas leasing on public lands, but officials told NPR it would lead to a more responsible leasing process that provides a better return to U.S. taxpayers.

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State Sen. Warns Of Wyoming Power Grid Failure, Says Renewables Not Reliable Enough

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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming came dangerously close to a power grid failure issue during February’s cold snap, according to one of the state’s leading energy experts.

State Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, a consultant for the energy industry, told Cowboy State Daily that the state’s energy grid almost reached its maximum capacity during the weather event that caused power supplies in Texas to fail last winter.

“On the 12th of February, it was part of the same phenomenon, the peak load got to more than 97% of available capacity, and the reserve margins were razor thin,” Case said. “And if there would have been any kind of problem — a gas delivery problem, a failure of a generating unit, a transmission failure — we would have been closer to the Texas situation than we know.”

The cold snap in Texas resulted in the death of 210 people due to power outages and exposure to sometimes sub-zero temperatures.

While Case said Wyoming’s energy transmission systems are better prepared to withstand extreme cold temperatures than those in Texas, the energy supply during winter weather has limited capacity.

And when polar vortex or heat dome weather patterns cover areas of more than 1,000 miles or more, as were seen this past year, the sheer volume of power being requested by consumers taxes the existing power grids.“

It’s not like we can import electricity from Colorado, because everybody has the same phenomenon,” Case said.

Case’s doctorate in natural resources and public utility economics has served him well in his elected position. Case often speaks out on legislative issues concerning the future of the energy industry in Wyoming. 

From his perspective, the push for renewable energy sources often ignores the need for what Case called “dispatchable” energy that can generate more reliable power.

“You’ve got rooftop solar on people’s homes and solar energy and wind energy, but it’s not really dispatchable — it’s weather dependent,” Case said. “So we have to have something that we could turn on, and ramp up when that energy is not available.”

Case pointed out that some renewable energy sources rely on natural gas as backup, because natural gas is a reliable, dispatchable, source of power.

“Renewables don’t work all the time,” he said. “So we’ve increased our reliance on natural gas. And in these very cold long-term events, we’re having delivery problems for gas, because there’s huge demand for domestic heating. And then the electric system can run short… and then it can get circular, because sometimes you need electricity to help make gas move. So it’s a real serious situation.”

Case noted that while the renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are cheap, proponents of renewables often fail to take into account the costs to keep the power grid online.

“We are on thin ice with respect to try and to push more renewable energy into the grid without figuring out how to make the grid work better,” he said, “or without having, at the same time, electricity that can be brought up when there’s no sun, and there’s no wind — and plenty of it.”

Case noted that coal is one of the best forms of dispatchable energy, but the carbon emissions from coal-fired plants are considered by some to be a contributor to climate change.

“Up by Casper, where the Glenrock plant is, you can see that the plant is running hard out on cold winter days,” he said. “Even though the whole country is trying to get away from coal, those are still valuable assets. “They may be so valuable that we might want to slow down their retirements – but almost every coal plant in the country is scheduled to be retired, and those are plants that burn Wyoming coal, by and large,” he continued. “The trouble is, we haven’t really thought what the gap is going to be.”

Case listed other forms of renewable energy that are being studied for use in Wyoming, from hydroelectric to geothermal to nuclear.

“There’s a proposal in Wyoming for a nuclear power plant, from a company called Terra Power,” he explained. “Rita Meyer, who used to be the state treasurer, is helping that company. It’s a serious consideration, partly because of the proponents behind it — Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, two of the richest people in the United States.”

But in the meantime, Wyoming residents should be prepared to go without power for long periods of time, as extreme weather incidents are becoming more frequent.

“You know, in Wyoming, we get power failures, usually because we have a winter storm that drops branches on power lines, right? Well, that’s not what we’re talking about,” he said. “This would be much more wide scale than that. A polar vortex event can be 12 to 13 days. So I really think it’s always good idea for homeowners to be prepared. “They should have a kit with warm clothes available an alternative heat source if you can; emergency lighting, emergency food,” he continued. “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but what happened last February, when it happened in Texas — we came closer than we care to mess with.” 

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Arch Nets $89M Amid ‘Strong Thermal Coal Markets’ In Third Quarter

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By Ryan Lewallen, County 17

Arch Resources closed out its most recent quarter with $89.1 million in net income with thermal coal segments showing a significant improvement over the previous quarter, the company announced Tuesday.

During the third quarter of 2021 (3Q2021), gross margins for Arch’s Legacy Thermal assets came in at $58 million, an increase of more than 40 percent over the previous quarter that will allow the coal giant to advance its long-term reclamation and retirement plans for operations in the Powder River Basin, according to an Oct. 26 quarterly earnings report.

“We continue to maintain tight capital discipline in our legacy thermal segment and to work to reduce our long-term closure obligations in a systemic and measured way,” said Arch CEO and President Paul Lang in a statement. “While we do that, we are simultaneously continuing to move aggressively to capture the still-significant value of these high-quality assets in an increasingly tight market environment.”

Sales volumes this past quarter across Arch’s thermal coal segments showed a 25 percent increase over the same period last year with the company effectively selling out its thermal mines for 2022 at “record-high pricing levels,” per the report.

Over the last three months, Arch’s thermal assets committed 66.5 million tons of coal priced at $14.03 per ton, according to the report.

As of Oct. 26, Arch remains committed to transitioning away from thermal coal towards steel and metallurgical markets, according to the report, and has reduced its asset retirement obligation in the Powder River Basin by $19.3 million since the end of 2020.

Coal Creek Mine is still slated for closure in 2022 with Arch completing $23 million worth of reclamation at the south Gillette mine to date, the report states.

Care and responsibility are key as the company continues the long-term wind-down of its legacy thermal assets, per the report.

All legacy thermal retirement obligations will be handled in a way that serves the needs of the company’s thermal employee base, mine communities, and thermal power customers, Arch said in the report.

Moving forward, the coal giant remains confident that the thermal mines can and will self-fund their own closure obligations while continuing to provide significant cash flow for the company.

Global and domestic thermal coal markets remain exceptionally strong at present, the report states, with countries around the world struggling to secure sufficient supplies of energy to support quickly recovering economies.

Based on current projections, Arch’s thermal segment should be on track to generate a gross margin next year that “substantially exceeds the entire asset retirement obligation for its thermal mines.”

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Potential Gold Mine Near Cheyenne Could Produce Tens Of Millions In Revenue For State

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By Elyse Kelly, The Center Square for Cowboy State Daily

Cheyenne may soon boast the only working gold mine in the state of Wyoming.

U.S. Gold Corp., a gold exploration and development company, is investigating the potential of an old copper mine adjacent to Curt Gowdy State Park to produce gold. If continued data collection bears out hopes, the Copper King (CK) Gold Project could produce tens of millions in revenue for the state.

And U.S. Gold Corp. is hopeful.

Jason Begger, project spokesperson for the CK Gold Project, says with every bit of data they collect, the project becomes more certain.

“All indications are that it could work,” he told The Center Square.

The mine site is located at Copper King, an old copper mine that hasn’t been worked since before World War II and is owned by the state. The gold deposit has been known to exist for a long time, but new mining technology has finally reached a point where experts think it could be worth opening again, Begger said.

Currently the company estimates the mine holds 230 million pounds of copper and 700,000 ounces of gold awaiting extraction, according to Begger. The operation would be hard rock mining. Begger said the ore is trapped within granite and requires forcible extraction.

U.S. Gold Corp. is in consultation with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to assess any environmental and wildlife impacts the operation could have. 

“The area is a part of what’s called critical winter range for mule deer, and so we’re working with the regulators to determine what sort of mitigation efforts can be done,” he said.

If the project moves forward, Begger said they estimate the financial boon to the state could be in the tens of millions.

“We have partnered with the University of Wyoming and their economic analysis division and they’ll be completing an economic impact analysis of both tax revenue to the State of Wyoming, vendors, sales tax – the kind of broader impacts – so that is in the works,” he said.

Begger pointed out as Wyoming and the country embrace new technologies like electric cars, manufacturers are going to require a lot of copper – copper the CK Gold Project could produce. 

The project is roughly a 10-year operation, according to Begger.

“It’s a nice shot in the arm for the state of Wyoming,” he said.

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Gordon Applauds Judge’s Ruling Against Biden Oil And Gas Lease Moratorium

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By Brianna Kraemer , The Center Square

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon expressed his content on Wednesday after a federal judge blocked the Biden administration’s moratorium on new federal oil and gas leases.

A U.S District judge based out of Louisiana granted a preliminary injunction in the case on Tuesday, ultimately restraining the U.S. Department of Interior from continuing to implement the pause on new oil and natural gas leases on public land or offshore waters.

The decision is a major setback for President Joe Biden’s climate change agenda.

Wyoming relies heavily on lease sale revenue to fund its public services, Gordon noted in his statement.

“This preliminary injunction is outstanding news for Wyoming and our energy workers. It confirms the position we have maintained since this ‘pause’ was implemented,” Gordon said.

“The Biden Administration has in fact put in place an unlawful, de-facto moratorium, causing economic harm to states like ours that rely on lease sale revenue to fund our schools and critical functions of government,” he added.

Biden’s executive order halting new oil and gas leases went into effect just a week after Inauguration Day. The order, called “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad,” pauses new leases until a comprehensive review of the environmental impacts can be assessed.

Wyoming is the nation’s top producer of onshore gas that takes place on federal lands, and second in the nation for its federal onshore oil production, according to the Bureau of Land Management. 

Of the nearly 63 million acres in the state of Wyoming, oil and gas leases managed by the bureau accounted for 8.4 million acres of land from over 13,000 leases in recent years.

With Tuesday’s ruling, Gordon said he hopes a similar ruling will be issued in a case filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming.

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Barrasso and Energy Sec. Granholm Agree on Domestic Uranium For Bill Gates Nuclear Plant

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By Jimmy Orr, Cowboy State Daily

It’s not like the two politicos from opposite sides of the aisle walked out of a conference room holding hands and singing “Love Will Keep Us Together,” but America did bear witness to a rare bipartisan agreement on Tuesday.

Energy Secretary Janet Granholm, a Democrat and former governor of Michigan, agreed with U.S. Senator John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming, on the necessity for a domestic supply of uranium to supply a proposed nuclear power plant in the Cowboy State.

In order to power the “Natrium” reactor plant, Barrasso said high-assay, low-enriched uranium (HALEU) would be necessary, which can be supplied only by the Department of Energy or Russia.

He asked Secretary Granholm what steps the department is taking so that the U.S. doesn’t have to rely on Russia for the energy.

“We agree that we need to develop that supply of HALEU and the budget requests $33 million in that regard to start that process and make sure that we will have on an ongoing basis access to that critical mineral,” Granholm said.

Pleased with her response, Barrasso noted there were individuals in the Energy Department who didn’t share those feelings so it was “good to hear that you’re on board on this,” he said.

“For sure,” Granholm said. “It goes right into again, this notion of us being able to make sure that we have the means for our own for our own supply chains for our own energy.”

The plant proposed for Wyoming will generate 345 megawatts and 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. The location should be decided by the end of the year.

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Oil, Gas CEO Slams North Face Company As Hypocritical

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The CEO of an oil and gas company with offices in Gillette and Colorado is criticizing the apparel company North Face as hypocritical for taking a stance against oil and gas by refusing to accept a clothing order from a Texas company while using petrochemicals in its products.

Chris Wright, CEO of Liberty Oilfield Services, posted a short video last week thanking North Face for being an “extraordinary customer of the oil and gas industry” despite the company’s refusal to fulfill an order of 400 jackets from a Texas oil and gas company because North Face did not want to be affiliated with the industry.

“I went through North Face’s website of wide-ranging products and I failed to find a single thing that wasn’t made out of oil and gas,” Wright said in the video. “Their vast manufacturing, distribution and retailing networks are also large consumers of gasoline, diesel, natural gas, propane, jet fuel, etc.”

Wright added that by providing material for North Face’s apparel, the oil and gas industry has contributed to people’s outdoor recreational choices, which has helped North Face’s business,

Liberty also posted a billboard in Denver this week with another “thanks” to the company.

“That North Face puffer looks great on you. And it was made from fossil fuels,” the billboard reads, adding a website also called thankyounorthface.com.

The comments stem from an incident in December, when North Face rejected an order for 400 jackets by Innovex Downhole Solutions, a well drilling company. The company’s CEO, Adam Anderson, told energy research company Hart Energy he was told The North Face refused to fill the order because he wanted the Innovex logo on the jackets and The North Face did not want to be affiliated with an oil and gas company.

North Face has responded to Wright’s criticism (although neither he nor Liberty were mentioned by name), promising that by 2025, 100% of its most used apparel materials will be recycled, regenerative or renewable and the company intends to eliminate all single-use plastic packaging.

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Wyoming AG Says Lawsuit Over Washington Coal Port Must Go On

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

The U.S. Supreme Court needs to stop the state of Washington from unconstitutionally blocking the delivery of Powder River Basin coal to foreign markets, according to the attorneys general for Wyoming and Montana.

The two states, in a brief filed with the court, argued justices should take up their challenges to Washington’s denial of permits needed for a proposed coal terminal, even though the terminal’s developer has gone bankrupt.

The brief filed Monday said the issues posed by Wyoming and Montana go far beyond which company will build a terminal and apply directly to Washington’s discrimination against the use of coal as fuel.

“Montana and Wyoming are challenging Washington’s longstanding discrimination against two landlocked states’ sovereign interests in getting one of their most important commodities to market,” the brief said. “Washington’s hostility to coal exports … remains unchanged. Washington has changed nothing and will continue to block Powder River Basin coal exports based on coal’s end use in foreign markets …”

The brief was filed in response to a request from the U.S. Solicitor General asking that the Supreme Court dismiss the lawsuit filed by Wyoming and Montana against Washington in January. The solicitor general argued because the company proposing the Millenium Coal Export Terminal has gone bankrupt, the challenge is moot.

But the brief filed by Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said the more important issue of Washington’s refusal to issue permits for a coal terminal, regardless of who develops it, must be addressed.

“Washington will continue to block port development and dissuade bidders from taking up this otherwise lucrative project,” the brief said. “Evidenced by its successful eight-year crusade to kill the terminal project, Washington’s policy-driven interpretation of its laws and regulations is not going to change on its own.”

In their initial lawsuit, Wyoming and Montana officials argued that in denying permits for the terminal, Washington did not simply look at the environmental impacts of the port on Washington, but at the environmental impact of using coal for fuel in other countries. Such “extraterritorial” factors should not have figured into the state’s decision, the lawsuit said.

Monday’s brief said even though the developer of the terminal has declared bankruptcy, Washington’s continued discrimination against Powder River Basin coal will infringe on the “sovereign interests” of Wyoming and Montana by unconstitutionally blocking commerce by the states.

The U.S. Supreme Court is the only court that can issue a judgment in such cases, the two states said, making it necessary for the legal action to proceed.

“If anything, that the developer is now bankrupt is one more fact to be weighed in determining the important legal issue raised in this matter — whether Washington’s policies and practices violate the Commerce Clause (of the Constitution) to Wyoming and Montana’s detriment,” the brief said.

Unless prevented from doing so, Washington will continue to prevent the construction of coal ports, the brief said.

“Without relief from this court — the only forum with the power to grant it — Wyoming and Montana likely will never see their abundant coal reserves to foreign markets,” it said.

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Gordon Relaunching Program To Encourage Oil, Gas Projects In Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is dedicating up to $12 million in federal CARES Act funds to re-launch the Energy Rebound Program, which is designed to get more people working in the energy industry.

In 2020, the program provided capital for specified oil and gas projects, including drilled but uncompleted ventures, the replacement of equipment to lengthen the life of wells and the reclamation of oil and gas wells through the plugging and abandonment process.

“The Energy Rebound Program successfully provided opportunities for oil and gas industry employees who lost jobs when drilling ceased last year,” Gordon said. “This program will continue to provide economic benefits to this important industry, their workforce and the entire state of Wyoming.”

Wyoming’s oil and gas industry is lagging due to external market factors, according to the governor’s office.

Currently, there are nine drilling rigs operating in Wyoming, down from more than 30 running in February 2020.

The program again target projects that bring immediate economic benefits, including job growth and revenue, along with the environmental benefits of plugging and reclaiming oil and gas wells that are no longer in use or near the end of their useful life.

“As energy demand continues to increase, private-land production states have seen a quicker rebound, one that has yet to reach Wyoming’s federally-owned resources. Given the success of the inaugural Energy Rebound Program, a jobs program at its core, Gov. Gordon’s decision to initiate a second round makes perfect sense,” said Pete Obermueller, President of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming. “In 2020, despite a quick turnaround over the holidays, the men and women of the oil and gas industry stepped up, utilizing more than 100 service companies from 14 Wyoming towns to complete their work, supporting thousands of local jobs and kickstarting more than $150 million in new production.”

Last year, the oil and gas industry had just six weeks to identify and complete projects. This time, the projects will need to be completed by the end of the year.

There will be a cap of $500,000 for each approved project.

There will be a cap of $500,000 for each approved project and the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will administer the program.

Oil and gas operators will need to certify the number of jobs created for Wyoming workers. To qualify as a Wyoming worker, the worker must be a resident of Wyoming at the time of the application.

“We look forward to supporting the governor’s Energy Rebound Program by administering this additional funding. The program has proven to be successful in supporting projects and employment within the oil and gas industry,” stated WOGCC Deputy Supervisor Tom Kropatsch. “Our evaluation of the applications and post program reporting to ensure compliance with program rules will be essential in making this version of the Energy Rebound Program as successful as the first.”

The WOGCC will accept applications from June 15 through June 25.

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Former Wyo Legislator Who Sponsored Nuke Bill Thrilled About Nuclear Power Plant

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Former state Rep. Dave Miller, R-Riverton, was surprised no one from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office called him this week to give him the news.

As someone who has been pushing for nuclear energy in Wyoming for 20 years, he figured someone would give him a heads up when, if ever, there was an announcement that Wyoming could be the home to a nuclear power plant.

Miller has been passionate about nuclear energy for decades and even caused a stir 10 years ago when he managed to amend a bill saying that nuclear energy was technically a renewable resource. More recently, he was the chief sponsor for legislation that would allow the construction of small, modular nuclear power plants at coal-fired power plants.

“I mentioned many times over the years, ‘Why doesn’t Wyoming have a nuclear power plant?'” Miller told Cowboy State Daily on Friday. “I’ve been the guy shaking the trees on this.”

On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced they are working to build the reactor at one of Rocky Mountain Power’s four retiring coal-fired power plants by 2027 or 2028. The reactor will generate 345 megawatts of power using Wyoming uranium.

Miller believes it was a bill he co-sponsored in 2020 with former Sen. Eli Bebout, R-Riverton — House Bill 74 — that helped bring the “Natrium” nuclear reactor to Wyoming. The bill allowed power plants in Wyoming to replace their natural gas and coal-fired generators with small nuclear reactors that have similar output.

The Natrium technology has been developed by TerraPower, a nuclear power innovation company founded by software developer Bill Gates, and GE Hitachi. The technology results in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.

While Miller’s and Bebout’s bill is perfectly aligned to allow construction of the new power plant, Miller was quick to point out that he was never lobbied by TerraPower, or any power company, to create the bill. It’s just a passion of his. However, he said he had great supporters for the idea in the Wyoming Legislature, including Bebout.

“I’ve been getting emails from my friends in the legislature who are telling me that bill is now starting to pay dividends in Wyoming,” Miller said.

Before beginning operation, the plant will have to be approved by several regulatory agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. However, Miller tried to write HB 74 in a way to reduce the regulatory burden on the project as possible, because he he feels overregulation has caused issues in basically every industry in the state.

Bebout and Miller both told Cowboy State Daily the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will be very important in getting the project approved, as well as up and running.

The bill also would assess a $5 per megawatt hour tax on the plant.

Although Miller said he was hesitant to add any tax, he thought $5 was an appropriate number.

“I was trying to figure out the amount of coal that a plant could burn and that tax rate for Wyoming on that coal, and I came up with $5,” he said. “I tried to amend it to $1, but it didn’t happen. However, since 93% of our power is exported out-of-state, 93% of the cost will be borne by out-of-state consumers.”

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Wyoming Enviro Groups Have Mixed Response to Bill Gates’ Nuclear Power Plant

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

There has been a mixed response from environmental groups in Wyoming to the recent announcement that the state may be home to a nuclear power plant in six to seven years.

While one environmental group in Wyoming welcomed the news of the proposed “Natrium” nuclear reactor demonstration plant, others were less excited and said their members were looking for more details about the reactor.

On Wednesday, Gov. Mark Gordon, joined by officials with TerraPower and Rocky Mountain Power, announced they are working to build the reactor at one of Rocky Mountain Power’s four retiring coal-fired power plants by 2027 or 2028. The reactor will generate 345 megawatts of power using Wyoming uranium.

The Nature Conservancy in Wyoming expressed optimism over the plant, which proponents said would have no harmful emissions.

“This is exciting news,” Hayley Mortimer, state director of The Nature Conservancy, told Cowboy State Daily on Thursday. “TNC Wyoming supports the development of advanced nuclear technologies because we know we need better, safer, cheaper nuclear to meet a net zero carbon goal by 2050. We appreciate the governor’s actions to make Wyoming carbon negative.”  

Alan Rogers, spokesman for the Wyoming Outdoor Council, told Cowboy State Daily that his organization is waiting to comment until it can collect more information about the project.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council also had “many” questions about the proposal, noting that the technology was still experimental, according to a group official.

“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has yet to license a design, so this announcement appears to be premature, PRBRC chair Marcia Westkott said. “Additionally, we have concerns about the cost to build the facility, how much water will be needed for its operation, and how the waste will be safely stored.”

Westkott said the council supports reducing carbon emissions, but wants more information about the project’s technical details.

“Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of this latest claim of a ‘silver bullet’ to save Wyoming’s economy is that it once again diverts attention away from our very real crisis in revenue, jobs and community survival,” she said. “Wyoming’s elected leaders have still not come forward with a real plan to address lost jobs, declining revenues and the dissolution of coal communities. This speculative feasibility study will not do that.”

The Natrium technology has been developed by TerraPower, a nuclear power innovation company founded by software developer Bill Gates, and GE Hitachi. The technology results in a smaller nuclear power plant than has previously been built, along with improved safety measures and a power storage system.

In addition to generating 345 megawatts of power, the facility will be able to store enough energy to provide 500 megawatts of power for short periods of time, according to TerraPower.

Before beginning operation, the plant will have to be approved by several regulatory agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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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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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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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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Federal Ban On Oil And Gas Activity Contributing To Wyoming’s Slow Economic Recovery

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By The Center Square for Cowboy State Daily

Despite a new state report showing the Wyoming economy is bouncing back, sluggish income growth and job losses, particularly in the oil and gas industry, mean the state’s overall progress is expected to be slow.

“The natural gas and oil industry follow the global markets and must utilize the oversupply that was created during the pandemic before we will see prices rise significantly and allow for increased production,” Ryan McConnaughey, communications director at the Petroleum Association of Wyoming (PAW), told The Center Square.

The oil and gas industry itself has been in a slouch and continues to seek recovery.

“The COVID-19 pandemic caused a historic drop in demand for petroleum products as the globe quarantined to slow the virus’s spread,” McConnaughey said. “This caused an oversupply in the global markets. We are starting to see the oil price move upward, and we are confident production will return as global economic activity resumes.”

The report was issued last month by the Wyoming Department of Administration and Information (WDAI).

“Wyoming’s recovery is really somewhat similar to the U.S. economy’s recovery,” Wenlin Liu, chief economist for the WDAI economic analysis division, told Wyoming Public Media. “The Wyoming economy continued to rebound in the fourth quarter. However, the slow recovery of Wyoming’s economy was mainly dragged by our oil and gas drilling activities.”

This year’s new federal mandates banning new oil and gas leases on federal lands, many of which are in Wyoming, have added to the state’s economic difficulties.

“The administration’s new policies around oil and natural gas will hinder the ability to produce in Wyoming due to its outsized reliance on federal lands for production,” McConnaughey said. “The natural gas and oil industry contributes more to Wyoming’s GDP than the following two sectors combined [travel/tourism and agriculture]. Therefore, production must continue for the well-being of our state and communities.”

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Wyoming Launches Lawsuit Challenging Biden’s Energy Lockdown

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The state of Wyoming filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging the moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land issued by President Joe Biden earlier this year.

The suit asserts that Secretary of Interior Deb Haaland’s implementation of the leasing moratorium is invalid under federal law.

“Following a careful review of not only the President’s Executive Order, but its practical effect, it is necessary for Wyoming to protect its citizens and challenge the Secretary’s action,” Gov. Mark Gordon said. “Not only is this federal action overreaching, it was implemented without public input as required under federal law.”

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Wyoming alleges that the administration’s action violates the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, the Mineral Leasing Act and the Federal Land Policy Management Act.

The lawsuit asks the court to set aside Haaland’s action and require the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to resume quarterly oil and gas lease sales, which have been suspended since the order was signed.

Gordon emphasized that Biden’s de-facto ban on oil and gas leasing will not meet the climate goals of the administration, as production will simply shift to other countries with less stringent emissions standards.

“The world will continue to need and use oil and gas for the foreseeable future,” Gordon said. “The question is whether it will be produced under the environmental safeguards in place on federal lands in Wyoming, or overseas without equally stringent regulations.”

A recent economic study indicated that a moratorium on oil and gas development on federal land will cost the state thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of state revenue.

Gordon said he anticipated other states will consider intervening after Wyoming’s action is filed.

Wyoming recently also joined a multi-state lawsuit in an attempt to block Biden’s ban of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Once the Keystone pipeline was completed, the project was expected to help free up pipeline space in Wyoming, increasing oil export capacity. The project is projected to create 42,100 jobs with $2 billion in associated earnings throughout the United States.

Biden on Jan. 20 issued an executive order revoking the permits for the pipeline.

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Wyoming Joins Multi-State Lawsuit Blocking Biden’s Keystone Pipeline Ban

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming has joined a multi-state lawsuit in an attempt to block President Joe Biden’s ban of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Wyoming has joined 20 other states in the lawsuit, according to a release from Gov. Mark Gordon’s office on Thursday.

Once the Keystone pipeline was completed, the project was expected to help free up pipeline space in Wyoming, increasing oil export capacity. The project is projected to create 42,100 jobs with $2 billion in associated earnings throughout the United States.

Biden on Jan. 20 issued an executive order revoking the permits for the pipeline.

“The Keystone project was authorized by Congress and would provide economic benefits to multiple states, including Wyoming,” Gordon said. “It’s foolish to think cancelling this pipeline does anything good for the country or climate.

“It will merely shift production offshore to places with lower environmental standards, worse safety records and laxer workforce protections, while at the same time undermining our own domestic energy security,” Gordon said. “Let’s put America first because we do it right.”

The lawsuit states that the decision to provide or withhold permission to construct and operate an oil pipeline across the international border with Canada is an international and interstate commerce regulation.

Essentially, the power to ban the pipeline construction would lie with Congress, not Biden, according to the lawsuit.

Wyoming joined attorneys general from Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Utah and West Virginia as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Gordon also issued an executive order asking Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to evaluate all presidential and executive orders for constitutionality and to take actions needed to protect the rights of Wyoming citizens.

Gordon’s order was issued in conjunction with an earlier order that directed state agencies to examine the financial impacts of Biden’s ban on new sales of federal oil and gas leases and the potential legal options available to Wyoming.

“Wyoming must not allow the Federal Government to continue to harm the State and its citizens through Federal Orders,” Gordon said. “We will use all means necessary to ensure we can continue to fund critical services through the responsible development of our oil and gas and other natural resources.”

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Petroleum Association of Wyoming Joins Lawsuit Against Biden’s Energy Lockdown

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

The Petroleum Association of Wyoming is joining a lawsuit challenging President Joe Biden’s moratorium on new oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands.

PAW is joining the lawsuit originally filed by Western Energy Alliance, the organization announced Wednesday.

The WEA filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Cheyenne in January, shortly after Biden issued his executive order halting new oil and gas leases, claiming the action exceeded presidential authority and violated the federal Mineral Leasing Act, National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Lands Policy and Management Act.

The PAW, a trade group for Wyoming’s oil and gas producers, filed as a joint petitioner in the lawsuit after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management did not hold its regular first quarter sale of federal leases this week.

“While many have tried to spin President Biden’s Executive Order as harmless, that narrative is simply false” said Pete Obermueller, president of PAW. “On average, Wyoming schools could have expected $4 million from this week’s lease sale – enough money to educate 220 Wyoming school children for an entire year. We join this lawsuit to show that the president’s leasing ban has resulted in real harm to Wyoming and those consequences will continue if this ill-advised EO is not overturned.”

Wyoming ranks first nationally for natural gas production on public lands and second for oil. In 2020, 1.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 43.5 million barrels of oil were produced on public lands, according to data from the Office of Natural Resources Revenue.

“We’re pleased to have PAW join our litigation,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance. “We filed in Wyoming because it has the largest amount of federal acreage under lease, and now we have the home team assembled. Because of the interlocking land ownership in Wyoming, it’s nearly impossible to develop oil and natural gas in the state without touching some federal lands or minerals.

“President Biden’s ban is a direct threat to one of Wyoming’s largest employers,” she continued. “The decree might make sense to someone sitting in Washington, D.C., but makes no sense in Wyoming and across the West.”

On Feb. 12, BLM canceled all oil and natural gas lease sales previously scheduled for spring 2021 in order to “confirm the adequacy of underlying environmental analysis.”

According to PAW, BLM is in violation of the Mineral Leasing Act’s requirement to hold lease sales “for each State where eligible lands are available at least quarterly” for failing to hold lease sales this week.

The area nominated in Wyoming for the March sale consisted of 426 parcels totaling 160,821 acres.

Since 2015, leasing revenues in Wyoming have totaled $474 million and averaged $79 million annually. The federal government shares 48% with the state, making Wyoming’s share over the past six years $227 million and averaging $37.9 million annually.

PAW estimated the potential loss to Wyoming of the canceled lease sale this quarter is $9.5 million.

Wyoming’s share of the sale directly supports education, infrastructure projects, and other vital government services. Based on the state’s funding formulas, the losses to the state and communities from the canceled first quarter lease sale include:

  • General Fund – $3.7 million
  • K-12 Education – $4.3 million
  • Public Infrastructure – $1.2 million
  • Cities and Towns – $275,000
  • The University of Wyoming – $198,000.

According to a recent study from the Wyoming Energy Authority, the economic costs of the Biden ban will hit Wyoming hard.

By the end of his first term, the ban will decrease Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by $8.3 billion, 15,269 jobs will be cut annually, wages will drop $3.8 billion, and state tax revenue will plummet $1.8 billion.

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Wyoming Senate Backs Request to Biden to Reverse Energy Moratorium

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A request to President Joe Biden to rescind his blocks on mineral leasing on federal lands may not convince the president to do so, but it will show him how seriously the state takes the issue, a state senator said Thursday.

Sen. Ed Cooper, R-Ten Sleep, urged members of the Senate to approve Senate Joint Resolution 3, which has the Legislature express its opposition to the moratorium because of its impacts on the state.

The resolution was approved on a voice vote in its first full Senate floor review.

Cooper admitted that generally, joint resolutions have little impact. But he said SJR3 came in response to a request from Gov. Mark Gordon.

“This reiterates our support for our governor in his letter to the president regarding our position on oil and gas in the state of Wyoming,” said Cooper, a co-sponsor of the bill. “It reiterates that we strongly support our (congressional) delegation in their efforts to curtail some of these executive orders.”

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.

The resolution noted that in addition to owning almost than half of Wyoming’s land, the federal government has direct control over another 42 million acres of mineral rights in the state and some influence on more than 90% of the state’s minerals.

In addition to the immediate impact of reduced income for the state, the move will drive oil and gas producers to other countries where the restrictions are not as stringent, Cooper said.

Sen. Drew Perkins, R-Casper, suggested the resolution be amended to point out how many jobs will be lost because of the moratorium.

“We don’t have anything on how it affects the workforce,” he said. “It’s not just what it does to the coffers of this state, but it has a direct effect on the people as a whole.”

However, Perkins also questioned the value of such resolutions.

“I appreciate the sentiments, but I just continue to feel that (resolutions) usually end up in ‘File 13’ and that’s the end of it,” he said. “They make us feel good that we’re doing something, even though we’re not.”

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UW Analysis: Wyoming Could Lose $12.9B From Energy Moratorium

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Wyoming could lose $12.9 billion in tax revenue if the energy moratorium implemented by President Joe Biden isn’t lifted in a timely manner, according to a University of Wyoming study.

The UW’s Enhanced Oil Recovery Institute issued a report this week that detailed the impacts of the drilling and leasing moratorium on federal lands, something many Wyoming officials have raised concerns about.

Biden issued an executive order in late January halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior time to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

Even though gas fields were excluded from the report, it concluded that Wyoming would lose billions of dollars due to the moratorium. According to the report, 67% of Wyoming’s recoverable oil reserves are at risk due to Biden’s executive order.

It also stated 47% of surface and 68% of minerals in Wyoming are found on or under federal lands, as are 60% of the minerals within oil basins in the state.

The report added that its lost tax revenue projection was just an estimate and did not include state mineral royalties, associated gas production, taxes on ancillary industries that support oil production or lost jobs.

Late last month, Gov. Mark Gordon and a number of his fellow Republican governors sent a letter to Biden, asking him to withdraw the order.

The governors were unified in their support for an “all of the above energy approach” that relies on both fossil and renewable energy sources and said that “as governors, we believe that solutions come from innovation, not regulation,” stressing the importance of state primacy for emission standards.

Last month, Gordon informed federal officials that he is prepared to take all necessary actions to protect Wyoming from unilateral actions targeting and crippling its energy industries.

Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow also joined four other western state school superintendents in asking Biden to reconsider the energy lockdown.

Their letter specifically noted that in Wyoming, the oil and natural gas industry contributed $740 million in K-12 education funding and $28 million to the state’s higher education system in 2019.

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Gordon, 16 Republican Governors Ask Biden to Withdraw Energy Moratorium

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

Gov. Mark Gordon is leading a coalition of 17 Republican governors in formally asking President Joe Biden to withdraw the executive order banning new oil and gas development on federal lands.

In a letter sent to Biden, Gordon and his fellow governors stressed the negative economic effect of the ban on western states with large tracts of federal land.

The order has the effect of “chasing away capital investment for long-term economic growth and undermining public services, public conservation, public safety, public education, and more,” the governors said in the letter.

Biden issued an executive order in late January halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior time to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

Some of the other governors included South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson and Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

Gordon also emphasized the importance of the high-paying jobs created by the energy industry, as well as the impact of the order on energy independence and grid stability.

The governors were unified in their support for an “all of the above energy approach” and said that “as governors, we believe that solutions come from innovation, not regulation,” stressing the importance of state primacy for emission standards.

“You began your presidency with calls for unity, specifically to end the divide that pits urban versus rural, and as Republican leaders, we stand ready to work with your Administration to advance our states and country,” the letter said. “In contrast, the lack of consultation with our states demonstrated by [the order] is alarming, showing disregard for the citizens we serve and the businesses that employ them and keep our country running and our nation secure.”

Last week, Gordon informed federal officials that he is prepared to take all necessary actions to protect Wyoming from unilateral actions targeting and crippling our energy industries.

A University of Wyoming study commissioned by the Legislature concluded that a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land could reduce Wyoming’s production by $872 million per year, costing the state more than $300 million a year in tax revenue.

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Cheney Estimates 1 Million Jobs Will be Lost Due to Energy Lockdown

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney estimated that 1 million jobs will be lost due to President Joe Biden’s moratorium on energy and natural gas leases on federal property.

Cheney predicted Wyoming would lose around 18,000 jobs due to the lockdown.

“The negative ramifications from the #BidenBan will be felt all across the country,” Cheney said. “Our nation will be more dependent on our adversaries, families will face higher energy bills, and an estimated million jobs will be lost — including 18,000 here in Wyoming.”

Biden issued an executive order in late January halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

Many Wyoming officials, from Cheney to Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow and U.S. Sens. Cynthia Lummis and John Barrasso, have spoken out against the moratorium.

A University of Wyoming study commissioned by the Legislature concluded that a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land could reduce Wyoming’s production by $872 million per year, costing the state more than $300 million a year in tax revenue.

“This is significant,” Balow previously said. “What we know in Wyoming is that this could be, by modest estimates, about $150 million a year in lost revenue within just a couple of years.”

Last week, Gov. Mark Gordon directed state agencies to determine how the state will be affected by a ban on oil and gas leasing on federal land and help him plot legal strategies to battle the ban.

“Forty-eight percent of our state is federally owned. Anything you do here in the energy space probably has some aspect of federal leasing tied to it,” Gordon said on Fox earlier this week. “Losing that revenue is devastating to our schools, our communities, those small businesses that depend on the energy sector.”

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Gordon Says Biden’s Energy Lockdown is “Devastating” to Wyoming

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

President Joe Biden’s recent moratorium on oil and natural gas leases on federal lands was a “direct attack” on Wyoming, Gov. Mark Gordon said during an appearance on Fox and Friends Monday.

“Forty-eight percent of our state is federally owned. Anything you do here in the energy space probably has some aspect of federal leasing tied to it,” Gordon told host Steve Doocy. “Losing that revenue is devastating to our schools, our communities, those small businesses that depend on the energy sector.”

Gordon added that the moratorium wasn’t just devastating to Wyoming, but that it will have wide-ranging and “bipartisan impacts.”

Biden issued an executive order in late January halting new oil and gas leasing on federal land to allow the Department of Interior to conduct a comprehensive review of the federal leasing program and existing fossil fuel leases.

Doocy asked Gordon if the federal government had offered to help Wyoming’s coffers in other ways since the moratorium was enacted, but the governor said such an offer wouldn’t make up for all of the impacts of the order.

“I think the wages that are paid in the energy sector are remarkable,” he said. “They’re longstanding jobs. Look at a town like Gillette, which has benefitted from years and years of energy development, it’s established itself as a remarkable town.”

A University of Wyoming study commissioned by the Legislature concluded that a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land could reduce Wyoming’s production by $872 million per year, costing the state more than $300 million a year in tax revenue.

Last week, Gordon directed state agencies to determine how the state will be affected by a ban on oil and gas leasing on federal land and help him plot legal strategies to battle the ban.

“The president’s decision to halt federal leasing on oil and gas under the guise of a ‘pause’ is beyond misguided,” Gordon previously said. “It is disingenuous, disheartening and a crushing blow to the economies of many Western states, particularly Wyoming. No matter how it is framed, this action is still a ban on leasing.”

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Gordon Announces Steps to Boost Wyoming Energy, Tourism, Ag

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A series of steps aimed at improving Wyoming’s primary economic drivers has been proposed or endorsed by Gov. Mark Gordon.

Gordon on Thursday announced the actions he will take or support to improve conditions in the state’s agriculture, tourism and energy sectors.

In the area of energy production, an industry shaken by recent executive orders halting the leasing of federal land for oil and gas production, Gordon said he will pursue an “all the above” energy industry that encourages the development of new industries such carbon capture technology and rare earth production in addition to oil, gas and coal.

Along those lines, Gordon is backing proposed legislation that would grant several tax reductions to the energy sector.

“Our traditional industries will adapt and continue to provide the reliable, affordable and dispatchable power they always have, only better,” he said in a statement. “Our economic recovery will hinge on the health of these industries and their ability to adapt to changing market demands. Wyoming can continue to grow even as our mix of energy supplies evolve.”

At the same time, Gordon welcomed steps to increase the ability of the new Wyoming Energy Authority to encourage the development of non-traditional resources.

“Carbon capture and the development of carbon byproducts will be part of Wyoming’s energy future,” he said. “So too should be efforts to research extracting the rare earth elements and critical minerals associated with coal that will be needed for the batteries powering the anticipated worldwide build-out of wind and solar power.”

Gordon is also backing measures that help the state’s tourism industry, its largest employer.

He singled out House Bill 85, which would let Wyoming State Parks use money raised through entrance fees to finance a large portion of their operations and outdoor recreation rather than construction projects. The measure is expected to allow for a $1.1 million reduction in money given to the parks from the state’s general fund, its main bank account, without affecting the visitor experience.

A number of bills aimed at bolstering the state’s agriculture committee are also part of Gordon’s initiative, including one that would give the state attorney general the authority to look into antitrust matters.

The measure is a response to consolidation of 80% of the meat packing industry within four major companies. Beef producers in Wyoming have long complained the four companies have kept prices for producers artificially low.

The state now lacks the authority to investigate such charges.

Gordon is also backing HB 52, which would increase Wyoming meat products used by school districts to feed students.

The governor said he is also working with legislators to expand the state’s meat processing capacity.

“This is only a part of an ambitious initiative focused on adding value to products across the entire spectrum of agricultural enterprise,” he said. “This effort is essential to grow this key part of our economy.”

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Wyoming Energy Sector Strategizing Response To Biden Ban On New Drilling

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By Sarah Downey, The Center Square

Wyoming energy producers are preparing to fight the Biden administration’s recent halt to new energy exploration leases on federal lands.

The ban is part of a slew of executive actions President Joe Biden has undertaken as part of a new climate policy.

“The Biden administration’s energy policies will do nothing to combat climate change while shifting oil and natural gas production from domestic sources to foreign countries,” Ryan McConnaughey, communications director at the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, told The Center Square by email.

“These actions will dampen the economy, harm national security, lessen environmental standards, and destroy good-paying jobs for the middle class,” he said.

The ban on leasing is a precursor to the Biden administration’s stated goal of ending all natural gas and oil production on federal lands, McConnaughey said.

“It will have immediate impacts on where companies invest for future production,” McConnaughey said.

Half of the state of Wyoming is federally owned. McConnaughey said that a recent study by University of Wyoming economist Tim Considine found that a leasing ban would result in the state losing $300 million in tax revenue annually.

“Experts tell us that a long-term ban could cost us 33,000 jobs in Wyoming, for a state of only half a million people,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-WY, said on the Senate floor.

Without robust oil and gas production, stakeholders predict Wyoming won’t be able to economically recover from the economic devastation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We hope that cooler heads within the Biden administration will prevail,” McConnaughey said. “Should these misguided policies be enacted it will result in devastating impacts to Wyoming’s economy.

“The Petroleum Association of Wyoming is committed to protecting the livelihoods of the hard-working men and women of the natural gas and oil industry. We will use all legal means at our disposal to fight any attempts on our way of life.”

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Jonah Energy: Uncertainty Worst Aspect Of Biden Rule

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

While an executive order imposing a moratorium on oil and gas leases on federal land will have immediate impacts on the state, what is more concerning is the lack of solid information on how long it might go on, an oil and gas industry leader said Wednesday.

Paul Ulrich, vice president of Jonah Energy, said it could take some time to determine the full extent of the impact of President Joe Biden’s executive order on the state.

“Between the executive order and the various actions the federal agencies are going to have to take … I don’t think we’re going to see clarity on how it might impact Wyoming and our producers for quite some time,” said Ulrich, whose company is operating the state’s only natural gas rig. “The challenge we face now is the uncertainty.”

However, the order may also create an opportunity for Wyoming to have a voice in federal efforts to promote more efficient and cleaner fossil fuel production, Ulrich said.

Biden on Wednesday issued an executive order placing a moratorium on oil and gas leasing on federal land until the Department of Interior can complete a “rigorous review” of its permitting practices and its existing fossil fuel leases. The order is part of Biden’s climate change strategy.

The order extends one signed the first day Biden took office that halted leasing on federal land for 60 days.

The executive order includes no timetable, Ulrich said, which adds even more uncertainty to the situation.

“What that leads to is a significant amount of uncertainty in investing, operational planning, all of the other work that needs to be done to effectively and efficiently develop on federal land,” he said. “Clearly, the lack of certainty about what the future holds should be concerning for everybody in Wyoming.”

The longer the moratorium is in place, the bigger the impact on the state will be, Ulrich said.

“We all know the positive impact the industry has on revenues, on our job base, on our way of life,” he said.

A study conducted by the University of Wyoming at the direction of Wyoming’s Legislature predicted that an end to federal leasing would cost the state more than $300 million a year in lost tax revenues if it was in place for five years.

However, the review of federal leases as the Department of Interior looks for ways to make the production of fossil fuels could provide an opportunity for Wyoming and companies like Jonah, which Ulrich said produces some of the cleanest natural gas in the country, to have some input on the department’s ultimate decisions.

“What I see is an opportunity for Wyoming to step up and continue to lead in the conservation space, in innovation in producing natural gas and oil and coal cleaner and more sustainably,” he said. “It’s my strong desire that the new administration reaches out to us, allows us to sit at the table and demonstrate the success we’ve had to reduce all of our impacts.”

Wyoming has been recognized for its conservation efforts and its work to reduce carbon emissions and the federal review might give the state a chance to share its expertise, he said.

“We’re one of the few companies in the country to have certified low-emission natural gas,” he said. “We believe that can be part of the solution.”

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Wyoming Loses 14,400 Energy Jobs In November Compared To 2019

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

After being hit by both a downturn in the energy industry and economic restrictions imposed by the coronavirus, Wyoming lost 14,400 jobs in November compared to one year ago, according to state figures.

The Wyoming Economic Analysis Division, in its report on economic conditions in the state in late 2020, said most of the loss came in the mining sector. However, the state’s retail trade industry actually gained jobs.

The division’s regular report “Wyoming Insights” looks at the various statistics that point to the health of the state’s economy.

In the area of employment, the report said the state had 274,600 jobs in November, a decline of 14,400 from November 2019.

Most of the decline, about 6,000 jobs, was traced to the mining industry. In addition to losses in the state’s coal industry in the past year, Wyoming’s oil and gas industry was hit by a global price war that forced prices so low that at one point, the state contained no working oil rigs.

Also posting declines were state and local government jobs, which fell by 2,600 in the 1-year period, the report said.

Professional and business services lost 1,900 jobs and the leisure and hospitality workforce was reduced by 1,800.However, employment in the state’s retail industry grew by 5.6%, 1,600 jobs, during the year, the report said.

The declines in the state’s mining industry made themselves felt in the form of lower tax revenues, the report said. Sales and use taxes paid by the mining industry in December dropped by $6.7 million, about 67%, from 2019 figures, the report said.

Sales and use tax payments increased in December over 2019 figures for three segments of the economy, the wholesale trade industry ($253,000), public administration ($73,800) and professional and business services ($27,800).

The drop in sales and use tax income was felt in most Wyoming counties, with Campbell County seeing the biggest decline at almost $4.1 million. Carbon County’s share of sales and use taxes dropped by $2.8 million in December from December 2019, a decline of 58.9%.

Teton County saw an increase from 2019 in its December tax collections of $787,000 and Albany County’s tax collections increased by $42,500.

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Wyoming Congressional Delegation Pleased With Soda Ash Royalty Reduction

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A reduction in soda ash royalties expected to save producers up to $5 million over the next 10 years is being praised by members of Wyoming’s congressional delegation.

U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney welcomed the U.S. Department of Interior’s decision to reduce the royalties paid on soda ash production from 6% to 2% for the next decade, beginning Jan. 1.

“Today’s long-awaited action will give Wyoming soda ash producers the certainty we need to stay competitive in the global market,” Barrasso said. “For too long, American producers have had to battle unfair foreign trade practices of China and other countries. Lowering the royalty rate will level the playing field against China and preserve these high-paying jobs in Wyoming.”

Wyoming is the nation’s leading producer of soda ash, which is used in detergents, water softening and the manufacture of glass, soap and paper. The state also has the world’s largest deposits of trona, the raw material used to create soda ash.

The Department of Interior in August released its proposal to reduce the royalties paid on the production of minerals not related to energy. The reduction in royalties is expected to save the soda ash industry $5 million over the next decade.

Enzi, Barrasso and Cheney agreed the royalty reduction will help Wyoming soda ash remain competitive against foreign producers such as China.

“American producers have been struggling against unfair trade practices from other countries like China,” Enzi said in a news release from the three. “This decision to reduce the royalty rate will allow this critical Wyoming industry to remain competitive.

“This long-awaited royalty rate reduction will empower soda ash producers across our state to expand operations and create much-needed job opportunities and economic growth as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cheney said.

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Wyo State Senator Predicts Energy Industry Won’t Recover

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Wyoming State Sen. Dave Kinskey on Wednesday said Wyoming’s energy industry — always prone to boom and bust — may never ever see a boom again.

Appearing at a legislative forum earlier this week, Kinskey — who represents Sheridan and Johnson counties — said the domestic and international sentiment against fossil fuels — coupled with a Democratic president — will likely spell doom for Wyoming’s oil and gas industry.

“I mean the legislation worldwide and across the United States and now with a Biden Administration, the war on carbon is going to continue at an increased pace,” he said.

This means, he said, that Wyoming’s economy — with 60 percent of the state’s revenue coming from coal, oil, gas, and other extractive industries — is going to be hit hard.

“By the time you add in the additional effects of sales tax from those, it is dropping dramatically. Add to that the complications of COVID-19, and we’ll come out of that but we’re not going to come out any time soon from the tailspin on oil, gas, and coal,” he said.

Kinskey said the state’s revenues are projected to be down between 25% and 30% over the next four to six years.

He said the state is $200 million away from balancing the portion of the budget not related to education, but the deficit in the state’s budget for public schools continues to grow.

To that end, Kinskey has asked the state’s school districts to be willing to accept budget cuts and to find ways to take cuts in revenue without hurting education.

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Converse County Oil, Gas Project One Step Closer To Approval

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By Jim Angell, Cowboy State Daily

A proposed major oil and gas development project in Converse County moved one step closer to federal approval with a release of the final environmental impact statement on the project.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Thursday, in its final impact statement on the project that could see more than 5,000 new wells drilled in the next 10 years, continued to select the full development option as its preferred alternative for the project.

The release of the statement triggered a 30-day protest period, after which the BLM will issue a record of decision on the project.

Five energy companies have proposed drilling on about 1.5 million acres of land in Converse County: Occidental Petroleum, Chesapeake Energy Corp., Devon Energy, EOG Resources Inc. and Northwoods Energy. Plans call for about 500 wells to be drilled each year over 10-years.

Other options for the project considered by the BLM included allowing no development and allowing the development of all the new wells, but limiting the number of well pads that could be built in the area.

Gov. Mark Gordon, in a prepared statement, said he welcomed the release of the report and noted Wyoming officials had worked extensively with federal officials to make sure the development followed certain measures to protect wildlife and the environment in the area.

“The State of Wyoming worked long and hard to weigh in on issues such as year-round drilling that would still provide appropriate measures to protect wildlife, including raptors as well as Greater sage-grouse,” he said.

He noted the project will involve the use of new drilling technologies that will reduce surface disturbances.

“It reflects what can be accomplished when ingenuity, science, technology and common sense management policies are used to promote energy development and preserve our wildlife,” he said.

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Jonah Energy VP: Despite Hurdles, Natural Gas Industry Can Stabilize and Grow

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

A cleaner energy product could provide the ladder needed by Wyoming’s natural gas industry to climb out of a hole dug by years of low prices, high regulatory fees, and finally, the pandemic, an industry leader said.

“The challenges for natural gas producers have been growing for a number of years,” said Paul Ulrich, vice president of government and regulatory affairs at Jonah Energy LLC. “And, what we are facing today is clearly a perfect storm.”

With only two natural gas rigs operating in the state, Ulrich said Wyoming hasn’t seen natural gas rig counts this low since the 1940s.

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the U.S. natural gas market was flooded with cheap product. Oil producers in the Permian Basin, an oil field covering parts of Texas and New Mexico, drew up an abundance of natural gas as a byproduct of oil drilling.

“There was a glut of natural gas on the market,” Ulrich explained. “The price differential (to extract natural gas in Wyoming) puts us at a disadvantage in the marketplace.”

In Wyoming, natural gas producers drill for gas and pull up a small portion of oil as a byproduct, Ulrich explained.

Because Wyoming’s producers focus on natural gas production, their operating costs are higher, making it difficult to compete against oil producers, he said.

But when oil production slowed to a crawl in the U.S. as a result of a price war between Russia and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) earlier this year, Ulrich said an opportunity opened for natural gas producers.

“I strongly believe that if we as a state collectively make smart and major decisions that remove financial and regulatory hurdles, we have the opportunity to not only stabilize, but grow the industry back to pre-2019 production rates,” he said.  

A key factor in regrowing Wyoming’s natural gas sector would be the willingness of producers to adapt to cleaner energy demands.

“The market is extremely interested in consuming more responsibly produced energy,” Ulrich said.

Taking part in a program designed to encourage the responsible production of natural gas, Ulrich said Jonah Energy qualified its product as low emissions and also reduced surface disturbances by working with state agencies and researchers on best practices.

The company earned a gold TrustWell rating, a score developed by the Independent Energy Standards Inc. to rank natural gas producers based on responsibility metrics across a range of risks and impacts. Jonah is also the first producer in the nation to receive TrustWell’s Verified Attribute for Low-Methane.

“From our standpoint, the whims of the market are one thing,” Ulrich said. “But if we can provide a cleaner source of natural gas, a more responsibly produced natural gas, we believe there’s a place in the market for it.” 

Jonah is exploring options for opening another rig in July, which could bring the state’s count up to three, he added.

As the Wyoming Energy Authority’s vice chairman, Ulrich said he was working with the state to help position Wyoming once again as a competitive market for natural gas producers.

“The authority is envisioned as a one-stop shop for developers, who want more information and help finding opportunities in Wyoming,” he explained. “Natural gas is a tremendous feed stock for a myriad of manufacturing processes, and could be a tremendous opportunity to diversify our economy.”

Both the Legislature and Governor Mark Gordon’s office have been supportive of the industry, he said, but the state has some work to do before natural gas can return to its former glory.

“Our best path forward — as a state and energy producers — is working together toward a shared goal,” Ulrich said. “The most important thing we can do as a state is remove any and all barriers to capital investment as well encourage and incentivize Wyoming operators, whether drilling for natural gas or oil.”

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Wyoming Oil Production Decline ‘Catastrophic,’ Recovery Unlikely

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a two part series detailing the struggles of Wyoming’s energy sector in a post-pandemic economy.

Before COVID-19, Wyoming officials were hopeful the potential for increased oil demand could offset declining natural gas and coal revenues, but a foreign price war dashed those hopes this spring, a University of Wyoming economist said. 

“In April, there was a price war between the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and Russia,” said Rob Godby, UW’s Energy Economics and Public Policies Center director. “Prices fell through the floor.”

Oil prices plummeted to less than zero — at a negative $37.63 per barrel — near the end of April. As of Thursday, the price per barrel rebounded to a positive figure of $35.60 per barrel, according to U.S. oil benchmark West Texas Intermediate, but prices are again trending downward as markets anticipate a second wave of COVID-19 cases. 

“Worldwide demand for oil collapsed by about 30 percent,” Godby said. 

Supply, demand

Before the pandemic, the world produced about 100 million barrels of oil a day, but international demand only called for about 70 million, he explained.

“It got to the point there was too much oil coming out of the ground and people didn’t have a place to put it,” Godby said. “They were paying people to take it off their hands.”

The U.S. was the world’s largest oil producer before COVID-19, but American producers struggle to make profits when the price per barrel is below $40. Diminishing income forced many producers in Wyoming and throughout the U.S. to cap wells.

“Capping wells is drastic, because it can damage (oil) reservoirs,” Godby said.

When producers re-start capped wells, the damage done to reservoirs can reduce the wells’ output.

“It’s not great,” Godby said. “But, it’s all you can do to stop the bleeding.”

Prior to 2020, Wyoming’s oil production never fell by more than 10% in a single year.

“We have very little data, but we expect oil production to decline in Wyoming in our baseline forecast by 45%,” Godby said, explaining the prediction was presented to the state in the latest Consensus Revenue Estimating Group report. “This is catastrophic.”

During the next five years, according to the report, Wyoming’s oil production rates are not expected to return to the levels seen in 2019, Godby added.

Will energy recover?

Given the unprecedented nature of COVID-19’s impact on the global economy, predicting post-pandemic energy demands is a lot of guesswork, Godby said.

But, few believe Wyoming’s energy sector will return to pre-pandemic production rates — which were on the decline — any time soon, he added.

“Some of the most rosy projections predict oil could come back, but the problem is the U.S. is a high-cost producer,” Godby said. “Where we think oil will come back is in newer fields, not in places like Wyoming.”

Most experts agree coal production will continue to decline, but determining the rate of decline is still up for debate.

Natural gas is poised for a rebound as oil production slows, decreasing the surplus gas flooding the market, but Godby said experts question whether Wyoming would be considered a prime location for new wells in the future.

“We don’t expect the increases in natural gas through 2024 to bring us back to where we were in 2019,” he said. “In the short term, there may be a price spike, drawing renewed interest. But it’s possible oil and gas development will occur elsewhere outside of Wyoming.”

COVID-19 Could Prove Lethal To Wyoming Energy Economy

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By Ike Fredregill, Cowboy State Daily

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first of a two stories detailing the struggles of Wyoming’s energy sector in a post-pandemic economy.

Wyoming’s coal, oil and natural gas producers are facing significant losses following the COVID-19 pandemic, a University of Wyoming economist said.

Before the world turned upside down, Rob Godby, director of the Energy Economics and Public Policies Center at the University of Wyoming, helped produce several scenarios for Gov. Mark Gordon detailing the state’s potential energy revenues .

Legislators were taken aback by the dismal scenarios presented. 

Six months later, the scenarios’ worst-case projections look optimistic compared to post-pandemic realities.

“COVID-19 caused a decline in coal that was more than double what we expected,” Godby said. “2019 was the worst year for coal in the last 20. We produced 15% less coal in 2019 than in 2018.” 

Since March, the state has produced about 40% less coal than in 2019, he explained.

Natural Gas

“Prior to Covid-19, the market was flooded with cheap natural gas,” Godby said.

Oil drilling operations in the Permian Basin in Texas and New Mexico were pulling up natural gas as a free byproduct of oil production and selling it on the open market, which made it difficult for natural gas producers in Wyoming to compete because they dealt solely in natural gas. 

In May, Ultra Petroleum Corporation, one of Wyoming’s largest natural gas producers, filed for bankruptcy for a second time in four years.

While some companies continue to pump out natural gas, Godby said the search for new wells is grinding to a halt.

“These companies were not drilling any more, so natural declines were going to happen,” Godby said, explaining natural gas production was previously predicted to decline by 25%.

“COVID-19 hasn’t really changed the rate of decline of natural gas. What has changed is the potential outlook a year or two from now.”

With most of the nation’s natural gas coming from oil drilling operations, the collapse of oil demand worldwide makes it difficult to predict how natural gas producers — especially those who produce only natural gas and not oil — might respond.

“With less natural gas coming on the market as a result of decreased oil production, there is a possibility for natural gas to rebound,” Godby said. “As early as the start of next year, we may see prices rebound.” 

There is uncertainty, however, about whether Wyoming’s producers will be able to weather the downturn long enough to capitalize on increased natural gas demand.

“The firms in the natural gas sector were already in trouble,” Godby said. “But the question is ‘Will they fail completely in the current situation?’”

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Miners face uncertainty of changing coal markets

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Miners left without jobs with the closure of two of Campbell County’s biggest coal mines are facing a changing reality in the nature of the coal industry, Gillette residents agree.

Residents said although the coal industry has traditionally been a stable source of income and employment, the dropping demand for coal has changed that.

“The coal jobs have historically been the stable jobs,” said Alison Gee, a Gillette attorney. “Now we’re shifting to an environment where we have to look to oil and gas to try and provide some of the stability for our families. And as you know, the oil and gas markets just aren’t that way. They’re very volatile because of the world economy.”

About 600 miners lost their jobs several weeks ago when Blackjewel closed the Belle Ayre and Eagle Butte mines. Efforts are being made to secure funding to return the mines to operation.

If those efforts fail, many of those who lost their jobs will probably leave the community, predicted Ken Anthony, a retired miner.

“You’ve got two to three kids at home and you’ve got a big old house payment and car payment and all of a sudden that stops,” he said. “It’s pretty scary. When they lose their jobs, it really makes a big effect on the whole county. If they can get the money and re-open (the mines), it will be fine. If they can’t, more than likely, most of (the miners) will leave.”

Gee noted that while some companies are offering jobs to Blackjewel’s former miners, most do not have the resources to offer the same level of salaries or benefits.

Tom Lubnau, a former speaker for Wyoming’s House of Representatives, said the mine closures show the state needs to work to offset the diminishing demand for coal.

“We have to, in some way, take control of our own destiny,” he said. “If we can boost the market in a certain way, develop the technologies that we need to use to market our resources, then we should do that.”

In the meantime, Gillette’s residents are doing what they can to ease the burden on the unemployed miners, said Trey McConnell, manager at the Railyard Restaurant.

“The people here, in bad times they bond together, they help one another out,” he said. “It’s one of these areas where you can kind of rely on your brothers and sisters. It’s just a very tight-knit community.”

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