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Boomtown Douglas

Excess gas being flared off creates an intense orange glow outside Douglas in 2014. The red lights on the horizon are from a wind farm outside town. 

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Last week in numbers

Friday oil prices: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $47.96, Brent (ICE) $57.06

Natural gas weekly averages: Henry Hub $2.84, Wyoming Pool $3.02, Opal $3.06

Baker Hughes rig count: U.S. 1,075, Wyoming 33 (The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's Jan. 7 rig count from Drillinginfo was 43.)

Quote of the Week

“I don’t like flaring one bit.”  

-- Commissioner Mark Doelger said in the conservation commission hearing Tuesday. 

To flare or not to flare 

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission approved another flaring request in the Powder River Basin, where operators may increasingly bring their need to flare to the commission as infrastructure catches up to operations. The PRB is not outfitted to catch gas and carry it to market at the level it will need to be. The flaring request approved last week is a stopgap in case the producer's midstream partner has not completed planned pipeline by the time two wells are ready to produce. 

The commission is in a transition period. Gov. Mark Gordon has yet to assume his role as chairman or appoint a State Lands director, who will also sit on the commission. With the exit of former state lands director Bridget Hill -- who will be Gordon's Attorney General -- and former Gov. Matt Mead, the commission has lost two attorneys who often kept control over lawyers fighting over applications to drill or drilling and spacing units. 

A return for APDs

There is a record number of APDs filed in Wyoming right now, largely due to a war for operation in the Powder River Basin, where long laterals nearly guarantee that federal minerals will be tapped at some point along the well. 

However, exempting workers to assist energy development has frustrated green groups who say they remain shut out from commenting on environmental issues, oil and gas development and lease sales. 

New governor(s) 

Wyoming's new governor is busy filling positions across the state as the 2019 Legislative session barrels forward.

Mark Gordon will retain Todd Parfitt as director of the Department of Environmental Quality. But retirements such as Pat Tyrell as state engineer will leave a gap. The state engineer has a quiet but significant authority over water in the state, whether used for agriculture or oil and gas drilling. 

Gordon didn't have much new to say about energy in his State of the State last week, nodding to the importance and challenge of coal, the need for new technology and streamlined regulatory environment. Of the latter, Gordon pressed the efficiencies that could come of a new Energy Office -- an agency that can consolidate roles that are now spread across separate agencies. 

Gordon's interaction with the oil and gas industry may be clearer when he begins attending the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which he has promised to do. 

New governors abound in the Rockies. Down in Colorado, citizens may not have nixed most future oil and gas development through a ballot initiative in November, but they did elect a new governor with energy goals that could impact Wyoming. 

In new Gov. Jared Polis' state of the state last week, he repeated his campaign pledge to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. He hinted support for policy that would assist with the financial burden of early retirement of coal plants and touched on the setback disagreement with a vague acknowledgement that something should be done regarding tensions between industry and locals. 

"It's time for us to take meaningful action to address the conflicts between oil and gas drilling operations and the neighborhoods they impact," Polis said. 

In other news ...

Union Pacific's stock price shot up after the company hired a Hunter Harrison protégé as its new COO, Jim Vena. Precision Scheduled Railroading -- a vision of the former railroad exec Harrison -- is a win for stockholders, but less so for workers who say the practices and efficiencies increase health and safety concerns and pare back benefits and stability once offered by a career in the railroads.

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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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