Mine Closure

People crowd in for a public meeting about the Blackjewel mine closures July 2 at the Campbell County Courthouse in Gillette. 

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 new 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) $64.68, Brent (ICE) $66.85

Friday natural gas: Henry Hub $2.48, Wyoming Pool $2.27, Opal $2.28

Baker Hughes rig count: U.S 958, Wyoming 32

Quote of the week

Several miners filed letters to a federal judge overseeing the bankruptcy case involving coal operator Blackjewel LLC on Friday, including a group of workers in eastern West Virginia. On July 1, Blackjewel closed Wyoming’s Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines after a previous lender had withdrawn during the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy financing. Hundreds of workers suddenly were out of work as the mines idled.

“We worked our butts off for this company and they don’t care about the men whatsoever,” the letter stated. “We have reached out to you for your help and would great(ly) appreciate it for you could help us get our pay (what we are owed).”

— miners at D17 West Virginia Blackjewel 

Bankruptcy: Funding to reopen Blackjewel mines 'not there yet'

The bankrupt coal operator Blackjewel LLC has yet to finalize a new financing proposal that would bring the company’s coal mines back to full operation, attorneys for the company said at a federal bankruptcy court hearing Friday. If the company obtained long-term debtor-in-possession funding over the weekend, the court may reconvene as soon as today for deliberations, according to the judge.

Blackjewel has continued to seek lenders to help fund the reopening of two shuttered coal mines in Campbell County as the company restructures its finances in bankruptcy court. If a new financial proposal receives a green light from U.S. District Judge Frank Volk, the company plans to reopen its mines and employ at full capacity again, attorneys said again Friday.

Only about 140 employees have been brought back nationwide for minimal maintenance and shipment of coal produced before the closures, a Blackjewel attorney said. The mines are not producing new coal at this time.

For the latest on the coal closures, follow @camillesuzanne on Twitter.

Trending: Liz Cheney brings up Blackjewel workers in Washington

Rep. Liz Cheney mentioned the Wyoming workers affected by the coal mine closures during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing focused on coal on Thursday.

“I have to say I take real exception with the descriptions a number of the witnesses have made today in particular about Blackjewel," she said. "I was in Gillette just a couple of days ago and our communities and our families are feeling and facing real pain. We have had 700 people laid off and the idea that that pain would be used by witnesses in this committee to somehow suggest that we ought to pursue an anti-coal endeavor to me is really offensive.”

Controversy over the wave of coal bankruptcies divided Washington lawmakers at the hearing as some Democrats on the committee called for changes to the federal leasing program, including hiking coal companies' royalty payments. Several Republicans defended the existing program, noting the significant revenue it generated. (via SPC Global Market Intelligence)

What’s new: Wyoming regulators move to address state's oil and gas permitting war

A bitter war between oil and gas companies over drilling permits is being waged in Wyoming. Since 2016, the Wyoming’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission has received a record 57,242 drilling permit applications from operators. But relief might come soon to the overburdened commission.

Commissioners moved forward with a rule at Tuesday’s hearing to “level the playing field” for operators who seek the right to drill on Wyoming’s land, while also addressing the high volume in applications. Commissioners voted to move the rule forward in a 33-step process. Oil companies have made a habit of obtaining permits to drill in order to lay claim to land, even if they have no intention to drill anytime soon. And the acquisition of a permit usually translates into higher value for the associated land.

Even with 11,809 permits approved by the commission in the past three years, only a fraction contain active wells in the state’s oil fields. According to the proposed rule change, Wyoming will remain a “first to file state, meaning the first operator to apply for a permit and receive approval has the right to drill. But that first-to-file status will only last two years.

A public meeting will be held in the near future to answer questions about the rule change, followed by a 45-day comment period.

Renewable energy: Work on Wyoming's largest wind farm project continues even as schedule changes

A request to extend the construction schedule of Wyoming’s largest wind farm project to 2026 received approval July 2 at a public hearing held by the Carbon County Commission.

Power Company of Wyoming LLC submitted a request to amend the construction schedule of its Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project as it works to align the project’s schedule with myriad federal, state and county permits and environmental requirements.

The approved schedule change extended the construction period from eight to 11 years. When completed, the wind farm south of Rawlins is expected to provide 2,500 to 3,000 megawatts of energy, doubling the state’s wind energy production. The county public hearing was just one more step in a decade-long process to bring the project closer to fruition.

Around Wyoming: Voters ‘overwhelmingly’ support wildlife and migration corridors

Most Wyomingites would cast a vote in favor of wildlife-friendly policies as long as they do not hurt the state’s economic growth, results from a new poll published by the University of Wyoming and the Ruckelshaus Institute revealed.

In May, a research team distributed the poll to 400 Wyoming voters and organized an online focus group of 20 residents to ask an array of questions about a defining part of the state’s identity — its migrating animal populations. The responses showed a unifying vision to harmonize conservation needs with the realities of an energy-dependent economy.

A vast majority of participants — 88 percent — said Wyoming’s wildlife was “very important or extremely important” in their lives, according to the poll results. In turn, 85 percent indicated that wildlife was important to the economy, too.

Mountain West: Colorado-based power provider that serves Wyoming now under federal regulation

A power provider serving Wyoming electric cooperatives along with three neighboring states will now be regulated by the federal government. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will have the authority to set electric rates of the utility, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association. In a statement, Tri-State said the change would impact only pricing and the utility would continue to “work constructively with state leaders on resource planning, renewable energy and environmental issues” (via denverpost.com). 

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