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Train Derailment

As much as 6,000 gallons of diesel fuel may have spilled into the North Platte River when two BNSF coal trains collided Monday afternoon in Wendover Canyon. 

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Last week in numbers

Friday oil prices: West Texas Intermediate (WTI) $52.72 Brent (ICE) 62.10

Natural gas weekly averages: Henry Hub $2.58, Wyoming Pool $7.65, Opal $7.13

Baker Hughes rig count: U.S. 1,049, Wyoming 34 (The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's Jan. 7 rig count from Drillinginfo was 43.)

Quote of the Week

 “First thing you have to do is get someone’s attention."

Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower on a bill aimed at forcing utilities to sell their coal-fired power plants rather than close them down. 

Opal spike

Natural gas prices on the east and west side of Wyoming were driven widely apart this week. The Opal hub rose to $17.41 per MMBtu Friday, while the Cheyenne hub was just $2.97. 

Brian Jeffries, director of the Wyoming Pipeline Authority, said Canadian crude from British Columbia couldn't make it down to serve demand in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. Meanwhile, Wyoming pipelines aren't built to carry gas east to west. 

Companies have considered reconfiguring those lines so gas can flow either way, but none have moved such a project forward, he said in an email Friday. 

"Part of the issue is paying for the modifications has to be measured against how often and for how long do these dramatic price differences will occur in the future," he said. "If these circumstances are perceived as too infrequent, then it may be difficult for the pipeline companies to locate customers willing to sign the long term contracts to justify the capital expenses."

Earnings talk 

Anadarko is still talking Powder but considers 2019 an appraisal year. The oil and gas firm with significant presence in the DJ Basin and the Powder River Basin called the latter the "coming attraction." In coal country, Peabody announced cuts to production targets at the North Antelope Rochelle mine. The company is taking an unexpected tack in cutting 10 million tons of expected production from the flagship mine's higher quality coal.  

Keep coal burning 

A handful of senators are trying to get Rocky Mountain Power to keep its coal plants burning. A bill to that effect has made it through the Senate, with proponents hoping to save coal towns like Kemmerer or small communities that depend on coal power for jobs like Glenrock. The bill has encountered a growing frustration from environmental groups who've been arguing that the coal plants are uneconomic burdens already and the bill puts taxpayers and utility customers at risk. 

Diesel spill

BNSF put up flotation devices to try and halt the diesel from traveling downstream, and the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality was on scene to assist because of the surface water contamination.

Wind farm down

The first large wind farm built by PacifiCorp will be taken down. The 69-turbine farm from the late '90s will be replaced with just 12 new towers but maintain the same energy output. 

New face of the BLM?

Friend of the oil industry David Bernhardt has been tapped as Trump's nomination to lead the Interior Department. Wyoming familiars like former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis were floated as replacements for Ryan Zinke. Zinke stepped down amid considerable criticism of how he conducted himself in leading the Interior. Deputy Secretary Bernhardt has been filling Zinke's shoes ever since. 

Interior plays a critical role in Wyoming, managing most of the federal surface in Wyoming where companies drill and people recreate. The agency also oversees any drilling activity whether on fed surface or interacting with fed minerals. 

Bernhardt has already played a quiet role in the state, such as making unpublicized visits to meet with local officials. When Zinke's decision to overhaul the sage grouse management plans caused tension in Wyoming, it was Bernhardt who became the regular point person in the DOI for then-Gov. Matt Mead's staff. 

Enviros and industry hold very different views about Bernhardt in the role as Secretary. The IPAA applauded the nomination, given the man's knowledge of the West and energy development. Groups like Western Values Project viewed the nomination as a continuation of the Zinke era, but worse. 

"Bernhardt is an ex-lobbyist … with so many conflicts of interest that he has to carry around a list of his former clients," the group's executive director, Chris Saeger, said in a statement Monday. 

Bernhardt will need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate to head the Interior.

Suing over coal

The Powder River Basin Resource Council is suing Wyoming for withholding information in a coal permit. Blackjewel LLC, which owns the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines, is proposing to use 20,000 acres of ranch property as collateral against eventual clean-up of the mine. The landowners' group asked for proof that the land was worth $27 million, as stated by the Department of Environmental Quality. The DEQ said that information was private. 

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Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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