Mule deer

A trophy class mule deer buck looks over its shoulder amid fall colors near Jackson.

Welcome to the Star-Tribune’s Energy Journal, a play-by-play of the past week in Wyoming’s world of energy. I’m your energy and natural resources reporter, Camille Erickson.

Do you have suggestions, ideas or energy events you’d like to see highlighted in the Energy Journal newsletter? Please contact me at camille.erickson@trib.com or follow me on Twitter for the latest @camillesuzanne. Sign up for the newsletter at trib.com/energyjournal

Last week in numbers

Friday oil prices: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $55.35, Brent (ICE) $59.92

Friday natural gas: Henry Hub $2.22, Wyoming Pool $1.77, Opal $1.80

Baker Hughes rig count (as of Aug. 16): U.S 935, Wyoming 37

Quote of the week

”(The Cloud Peak Energy mines), they sold for so little money — $15.7 million in cash. My first reaction was that that is really strong evidence that the market for coal has contracted pretty significantly.”

— Joshua Macey, a professor specializing in bankruptcy law at Cornell Law School

Coal: New company likely to join Powder River Basin

Navajo Transitional Energy Company received court approval last week to purchase three coal mines owned by bankrupt operator Cloud Peak Energy, according to a statement released by the purchaser. The Navajo Nation coal company is expected to soon take over Wyoming’s Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines — the third- and fifth-largest mines in the country. The Spring Creek mine in Montana was also included in the sale of Cloud Peak’s assets to Navajo Transitional Energy Company.

Although the sale received approval from the judge, it has yet to close. According to court documents, the Navajo Nation coal company was the sole bidder with secured surety bonding, a form of insurance for reclamation liabilities.

What’s next for coal country?

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Change has torn through Wyoming’s coal country this summer. Bankruptcies, mine closures and mergers have left public officials and workers on edge and thinking about the future. This volatility could be sign of a new chapter in the basin’s coal landscape, according to interviews with several analysts. Lawmakers have long promulgated Wyoming as the energy mecca of the nation. But static demand for electricity, the takeover of dirt-cheap natural gas and the fast clip toward renewables may usher in a new era in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin.

Oil and gas: Energy development disrupts mule deer eating habits, new study finds

Oil and gas development throughout Wyoming’s sagebrush habitats may be affecting mule deer well beyond the perimeters of a well pad, a new study by University of Wyoming researchers found. For each acre of mule deer habitat overtaken by energy-related infrastructure, nearly five additional acres are also compromised, the study concluded.

Water trouble over Moneta Divide project

Conservation groups submitted a letter to a Wyoming regulatory agency demanding public officials investigate the water discharged at an oil and natural gas site for possible contaminants that could harm surrounding livestock and wildlife. The letter comes after a public comment period in which nearly 500 individuals and groups commented on the proposed permit that would expand the Aethon Energy’s operations in Natrona and Fremont counties by 8,250 wells. 

Top Trump energy official advocates for coal technology during visit to Wyoming

A leader in the movement to develop carbon capture and storage technology, Steven Winberg visited the University of Wyoming’s School of Energy Resources. He also spoke alongside Gov. Mark Gordon at a press conference in Cheyenne, where they affirmed coal’s continued importance in the state’s economy and underlined the role advancements in carbon capture technology could play in sustaining Wyoming’s coal market into the future.

“You’ve seen a decline in the coal industry, but the pace of that is not indicating that it is going to close next year, or the year after, or the year after that,” Gordon told the Star-Tribune.

Asked specifically what would happen to the two Blackjewel coal mines idling in Campbell County, Winberg declined to make any predictions.

“Foreseeing whether the (mines) will reopen, my crystal ball is not very good,” he said.

ICYMI: More energy development on core sage grouse habitat? Maybe.

Controversy over the 15 million acres of sage grouse core habitat in Wyoming escalated when environmental groups released a July 25 report concluding unprecedented oil and gas leasing and permitting for drilling may accelerate the degradation of the bird’s habitat, leading to pushback from energy interests. One week later, the U.S. Forest Service announced plans to revise sage grouse habitat protections, causing conservationists to fear the worst for the bird. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s governor has been considering amendments to the state’s own sage core management strategy this summer. Amid the ongoing debate, the number of sage grouse has continued to decline. What’s next to the bird endemic to Wyoming’s sagebrush landscape?

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