Mine Closures

Meladie Kelly helps her husband, Will Bruns, fill out unemployment paperwork Tuesday at the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services center in Gillette. Bruns worked for Blackjewel and was on short-term disability at the time of the closure.

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) $55.30, Brent (ICE) $61.93 

Friday natural gas: Henry Hub $2.36, Wyoming Pool $2.10, Opal $2.11

Baker Hughes rig count: U.S 954, Wyoming 32

Quote of the week

“What (Blackjewel) is trying to prevent is a complete financial breakdown where there is no cash to do anything.”

-- Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute, a think tank in Seattle that advocates a transition to green energy.

Federal judge approves funding for Blackjewel to survive until Monday

A federal judge approved short-term funding for coal operator Blackjewel LLC during an emergency hearing Friday, the latest development in a weekslong effort to avoid liquidation of two Campbell County coal mines and bring employees back to work.

U.S. District Judge Frank Volk approved $2.9 million in interim debtor-in-possession funding from lenders Whitebox Advisors LLC and Highbridge Capital Management. The loan will not bring the company’s mines back to full capacity and only provided relief to the company until today.

As updates on a bankruptcy case involving coal operator Blackjewel have trickled out of a distant courtroom this month, hundreds of Wyoming families have remained anxious for answers. For many, the uncertain weeks since the mines halted coal production have not been easy.

“We’ve been struggling,” said Meladie Kelly, the wife of a Blackjewel worker and mother of two children.

Study forecasting future of coal plants delayed again

The largest utility company in Wyoming is delaying the release of a plan for its coal plants because of complications in data modeling, it announced last week.

The anticipated study will forecast the economic viability of PacifiCorp’s 72 generating facilities by considering how changes to energy regulations, prices and technology could affect ratepayers’ electricity prices.

The results, which will now be released Oct. 18, could have big implications for Wyoming consumers relying on Rocky Mountain Power’s electrical grids, not to mention the state’s miners employed at the company’s coal units. The data culled from the study could also influence the company's decision to accelerate the retirement of some of its coal plants, a possibility that has fueled widespread concern among Wyoming lawmakers.

Plans to announce the results this week shifted when the company admitted it found errors in the calculated reclamation costs of the Jim Bridger facility, located in southwest Wyoming.

In setback to Wyoming uranium industry, Trump declines to set domestic quotas

President Donald Trump declared earlier this month he will not set a minimum on domestic uranium production, despite persistent calls from Wyoming uranium operators and legislators to protect the industry by curtailing the unprecedented influx of uranium from foreign countries.

Before taking any further action, the president instituted a 90-day government working group to consider the national security risks associated with nuclear energy production. Proponents of the quotas consider restricting foreign sourcing of uranium vital to the country’s economy and national security.

Cloud Peak hires Blackjewel workers after deadline for bids delayed

As coal operator Blackjewel LLC went to battle in bankruptcy court last week, another Powder River Basin company quietly contended with its own financial troubles.

Cloud Peak Energy filed for bankruptcy in May and is one of six coal companies enmeshed in bankruptcy proceedings in Wyoming. The coal operator owns three mines — Antelope and Cordero Rojo in Wyoming and Spring Creek in Montana — and owes $400 million in outstanding debt. Even so, the company reportedly hired 60 workers from the closed Blackjewel mines.

In the latest developments from court, the final day for submitting bids for Cloud Peak Energy’s three thermal coal mines was extended to July 25, according to court documents and confirmed by a spokesman for Cloud Peak Energy. In a process that has become commonplace within Wyoming’s coal country, bankrupt companies unable to repay outstanding debt can have their assets auctioned off to the highest bidder, anointing the mines with new ownership to keep the facilities pumping out coal.

BLM wants to sell Wyoming oil industry landfill site

The Bureau of Land Management announced plans to dispose of a small area of public land by selling it to Texas-based company Merit Energy for just over $7,000. An unauthorized landfill composed of oil and gas activity waste currently occupies the 10 acre plot located in Big Horn County. The agency will accept public comments until Aug. 26.

In another blow to Powder River Basin, large coal customer announced plans to retire plant

American Electric Power Co. Inc. will retire Rockport Unit 1, one of the largest coal plants in the nation, by 2028. The plan came as the company faced mounting pressure to curb air pollution and expedite its transition to cleaner energy. The company purchases sub-bituminous coal from the Powder River Basin, a majority sourced from Peabody Energy Corp.'s North Antelope Rochelle Mine, but Arch Coal Inc.'s Black Thunder also provided coal to the plant. A judge approved the agreement Wednesday (via S&P Global).

Wyoming lawmakers explore storing spent nuclear fuel

As part of the hunt for additional revenue streams, Wyoming lawmakers voted last week to form a Joint Minerals Business and Economic Development Committee to explore the economic viability of storing used nuclear fuel rods with the Department of Energy. According to Sen. Jim Anderson, R-Casper, the rods could be stored safely in temporary storage sites in rural areas of the state before transporting them to Yucca Mountain in Nevada (via WyoFile).

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