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Cloud Peak

A shovel loads haulers with coal at Cloud Peak Energy's Antelope Mine north of Douglas. The troubled coal company has so far avoided bankruptcy. 

Have an event, trend or general energy happening you’d like to see in the Energy Journal newsletter? Send it to Star-Tribune energy reporter Heather Richards at heather.richards@trib.com. Sign up for the newsletter at trib.com/energyjournal

Last week in numbers

Friday oil prices: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $63.89 Brent (ICE) $71.55

Natural gas weekly averages: Henry Hub $2.67, Wyoming Pool $2.34, Opal $2.35

Baker Hughes rig count: U.S. 1,022, Wyoming 36 

Quote of the week

“It is a welcome change to see the federal government taking steps to help encourage American energy development instead of looking for more ways to throw up red tape to block it."

-- Sen. Mike Enzi on President Trump's executive order to reexamine EPA guidance on the Clean Water Act, which proponents say states like Washington have used to block energy projects

Trump orders

President Donald Trump signed two executive orders aimed to assist the oil and gas industry, one declaring presidential authority over cross-border energy infrastructure, a second adjusting states' ability to block energy projects on grounds of threatened water quality. 

Predictable responses poured out ahead of, and following, the president's signing. Groups in opposition fear the energy agenda of the Trump administration is trouncing environmental protections and, in this case, states' rights. Proponents say Trump's instructions to the EPA will stop states from utilizing the Clean Water Act to veto energy development. 

Wyoming support for the bill is rooted in frustration over a proposed coal port blocked by Washington state over a water permit. 

Gasoline in the river

A Maverik gas station in downtown Lander overfilled its storage tanks, causing the gasoline to seep to the surface and into the Popo Agie river just 50 feet away, according to the Department of Environmental Quality.

A team from the Environmental Protection Agency has been building a concrete barrier to contain the seeps. Local and state officials also responded to the site in early April to try to contain the gas contamination in the river. 

A local resident first notified authorities after he smelled gasoline vapors coming off the river. 

From titan to weakest link 

Powder River Basin coal, dug from the ground in Wyoming and Montana, has long been the cheapest to get out of the ground, with the least man hours required. Lower value but lower cost and lower sulfur, PRB coal has dominated for decades. 

It is not doing well now, and the outlook remains poor according to a Moody's Investor Service Analysis published last week.

Cloud Peak's deadline  

Wyoming's third-largest coal producer is almost out of time. Today marks the final day before Cloud Peak Energy defaults on its debt. The firm elected to take advantage of a 30-day grace period for a loan payment last month. 

Cloud Peak has been trundling towards bankruptcy, facing fewer dollars in profit off each ton, a shrinking customer base and maturing debt. One of its two Wyoming mines will be uneconomic this year, according to the firm.

Cloud Peak employs some 20 percent of the state's Powder River Basin coal miners.

In other news ... 

The acting secretary of the Interior Department, David Bernhardt, was confirmed by the Senate to lead the Interior Thursday, 56 to 41. The expected confirmation angered environmental groups who question Bernhardt's history lobbying for fossil fuel companies. The secretary grew up spending time on his grandparents property in Wyoming. He was the de facto authority and liaison to Wyoming during revisions to the BLM sage grouse management plans under then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. 

The Wyoming Business Report's annual energy summit will take place in Gillette next month, with a tour of the Wyoming Integrated Test Center and speakers from the University of Wyoming, Berkshire Hathaway and the Wyoming Heritage Foundation. Registration is open online for the May 6 and 7th conference

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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