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.
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Last week in numbers
Friday oil prices: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $54.47, Brent (ICE) $58.23
Friday natural gas: Henry Hub $2.14, Wyoming Pool $1.92, Opal $1.93
Baker Hughes rig count: U.S 935, Wyoming 37
Quote of the week
Despite receiving approval from a federal bankruptcy judge on Aug. 6 to purchase three Blackjewel mines, coal operator Contura has not secured approval from the federal government to finish the sale. The company is battling federal agencies over unpaid royalties and contested leasing.
“The federal government bargains tough in these situations and they have the cards. About half of every dollar in the mineral royalties comes back to Wyoming. Our schools are depending on that.”
-- Rob Godby, University of Wyoming professor and director of the Energy Economics and Public Policies Center
Bankruptcy: Contura has yet to reach a deal with feds
Despite promising to “reinstate immediately” 500 jobs at the idling Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines, Contura has yet to reach a necessary agreement with the federal government and resuscitate the mines, fueling further ambiguity throughout Wyoming’s coal country. The company announced Wednesday an agreement between federal agencies and the successful bidder could break down.
“There can be no assurance that a settlement among the parties can be reached,” the company stated in its financial report.
Retired mine workers’ health care to end this year, despite extra funds
Retired workers from the Kemmerer mine in southwestern Wyoming saw a glimmer of hope this month, after the mine’s bankrupt coal company submitted a motion to increase retiree benefits by $3 million. But even if a federal judge approves the agreement, medical coverage for the retired union miners will end on Dec. 31, according to the union.
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Cloud Peak Energy finds new owner
Bankrupt operator Cloud Peak Energy selected Navajo Transitional Energy Company as the successful bidder to assume ownership of its three coal mines in the basin, according to a statement released Friday night.
The deal includes a $15.7 million immediate cash payment, a $40 million second lien promissory note and payment of royalties for coal produced over the next five years. Navajo will also take over Wyoming’s Cordero Rojo and Antelope mines — in addition to its Spring Creek mine in Montana.
Coal: Contaminants found around coal ash ponds
Investigations into multiple Wyoming coal ash ponds operated by the state’s largest utility company revealed groundwater contamination far exceeded federal limits. The results have prompted the company to consider corrective measures and solicit public comments this month.
Tests conducted at the Jim Bridger and Naughton power plants in southwestern Wyoming, both owned by PacifiCorp, tested positive for chemicals considered toxic to humans and animals. The company identified high levels of more than half a dozen chemicals — from arsenic and lead to radium and selenium — at the Jim Bridger power plant, according to the company’s investigation. The Trump administration proposed last month to ease federal reporting requirements for coal-fired power plants, causing several states to sue. Full story here.
Speaking of coal-fired power plants, escalating competition from renewables and natural gas has led to a domino effect in closures of power plants. E&E's Ben Storrow reports on which power plants across the country are foundering first (via E&E News).
Natural gas: Something in the water?
Conservation groups submitted a letter Thursday to Wyoming’s Department of Environmental Quality, demanding water discharged at an oil and natural gas site needs to be investigated for possible contaminants that could harm surrounding livestock and wildlife. The Wyoming Outdoor Council and Powder River Basin Resource Council are calling on the agency to consider the consequences of discharging approximately one million gallons of water a day into Alkali and Badwater creeks. Public comments for the permit for the Aethon Energy Company's Moneta Divide permit are available here.
Renewables: Wind development picks up pace
Despite a drought in the state’s wind development for nearly a decade, about $10 billion is earmarked to flow into wind energy projects, potentially providing a solution to Wyoming’s precarious revenue status. Located primarily in the blustery fields of Carbon and Converse counties, about a dozen wind projects in various stages of development could unlock sizable economic returns and increase the state’s energy capacity some five times over. More on the state of wind development in Wyoming here.
National: Judge rules panel on drilling and mining cannot advise
A federal committee assembled to recommend ways to loosen drilling and mining regulations suffered a blow last week when a judge ruled the group could not offer advice to the Trump administration.
U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy ruled in favor of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, the conservation group that filed the lawsuit against the Royalty Policy Committee, concluding the group violated transparency laws.