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) $56.71, Brent (ICE) $61.08
Friday natural gas: Henry Hub $2.31, Wyoming Pool $1.89, Opal $1.90
Baker Hughes rig count (as of Aug. 23): U.S 916, Wyoming 37
Quote of the week
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming landowners group filed a citizen complaint last week alleging a pair of coal companies with responsibility over two of Wyoming’s coal mines violated state and federal reporting laws. The landowners group urged the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to act or risk a federal investigation of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines.
“When you idle a mine of this scale, there’s a lot of consequences that could happen on the ground ... It’s really important for it to be in writing with regulators what is the plan here and how the company is dealing with site stabilization, environmental monitoring and reclamation that needs to happen. More broadly, what is the long-term plan, how long is this cessation going to last?”
— Shannon Anderson, staff attorney at the Powder River Basin Resource Council
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Judge says Blackjewel can sell eastern, Wyoming mines separately
Nearly two months after a pair of Wyoming coal mines ground to a halt, coal operator Blackjewel returned to federal bankruptcy court last week to amend the approved sale of some of its mines to coal giant Contura Energy. A judge ruled the company can proceed with the sale of a West Virginia coal mine separately from the sale of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines in the Powder River Basin.
Wyoming miners locked out of jobs face health insurance loss
Hundreds of out-of-work Blackjewel miners waiting for the idling Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines to reopen now face additional hurdles. Health insurance for the miners ended on Saturday. Blackjewel filed a motion in bankruptcy court to terminate its health insurance plan. Since filing for bankruptcy, Blackjewel said it has covered $2.3 million in workers’ healthcare claims, according to court documents. The company asked to terminate the healthcare policy due to insufficient funds to continue covering employee health care needs.
Montana officials back expansion of coal mine purchased from Cloud Peak
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has approved the expansion of Spring Creek coal mine in Montana, the 10th-largest producing mine in the country. Bankrupt coal company Cloud Peak Energy owns the mine, but recently auctioned off its three Powder River Basin mines to Navajo Transitional Energy Company last month.
State must release documents on coal mine cleanup, court orders
After a coal company denied landowners access to appraisal documents tied to future cleanup plans for the Belle Ayr coal mine in Campbell County, the group took the matter all the way to court. The court’s ultimate decision rendered last week set a new precedent for public records requests for commercial information in Wyoming. A Wyoming judge ruled last week in favor of the Powder River Basin Resource Council’s petition to unlock sealed appraisal documents listing the value of two properties used to back coal company Contura Coal West's future reclamation costs at Belle Ayr. The landowners wanted to ensure the properties had sufficient value to be held as collateral.
ICYMI: Conservation and energy groups find common ground in new sage grouse executive order
Conservation and energy groups alike applauded a new executive order on sage grouse Gov. Mark Gordon issued Thursday that both maintains and clarifies existing protections for the imperiled bird across Wyoming. The order upholds existing conservation strategies first instituted in 2015 but also adds new data collection requirements and outlines guidelines for reclamation of disturbed sage grouse habitat.