Our archives

Major Funders:
Foundation for Community Vitality
Greater Montana Foundation
Encouraging communications on issues, trends and values of importance to Montanans.
The Yellowstone River Up From Big Timber
Photo courtesy of Rick and Susie Graetz
Mountain West News Energy Review

September, 2015:

There were notable events in nearly every aspect of energy that Mountain West News covers this month.

Aspen, Colorado, became the third community in the United States to obtain all its electricity from renewable resources.

Construction is nearly complete on Algae Aqua-Culture Technologies Inc.'s new power plant in Montana. Its predecessor burned to the ground during construction, but company officials said the newer version of the plant, which uses algae to create methane from wood waste from the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. in Columbia Falls, and uses the methane to produce electricity, will be bigger and better.

The Keystone XL pipeline was in the news again, with Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton going on the record against the Alberta-to-Oklahoma pipeline to move Alberta crude oil south to U.S. refineries, and TransCanada, the company that wants to build the pipeline, announced it was dropping its eminent domain lawsuits against the 19 Nebraska landowners who refused to grant an easement along the pipeline's path in that state. The Calgary-based company said it would instead seek approval for the project from the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Oil continued to dominate the news in September, with Devon Energy celebrating its $100-million oil recovery project in Wyoming. The project, which pumps carbon dioxide from a gas plant into an aging oilfield to increase production, is currently pulling 2,500 barrels a day from the oilfield.

There was news on disputed leases in Montana this month, with a federal panel recommending that leases in the Badger-Two Medicine area near Glacier National Park be canceled, due to the cultural importance of the lands to the Blackfeet Nation.

Low oil prices continued to drive layoffs in Alberta, and counties in Colorado and Wyoming began to tighten their belts as those low prices began to cut into revenues.

An appeals court decision in British Columbia on a hydraulic fracturing permit was expected to have far-reaching consequences as the appeals court ruled the province did not adequately allow the Fort Nelson First Nation to respond to the application and that the approval of the permit was not scientifically sound, and the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear cases on a moratorium and outright ban of the drilling method.

Mountain West Perspective

Montana's two-year colleges revamp curricula to meet changing workplace demands

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction previews three books that deal with wildfires in the West
Sept. 30, 2015

Mountain West Voices

Yellowstone Public Radio broadcasts Mountain West Voices, a program that offers extraordinary stories of ordinary people throughout the region, on Sunday mornings at 7 o'clock. 

Tune into Yellowstone Public Radio at 7 a.m. on Sunday, or listen online via the Mountain West Voices' website.


Work begins on Utah wind farm as opposition builds
Work began on the long-stalled Latigo Wind Park in Utah in July, with plans for the 61-megawatt farm to be producing power by year's end, but a group of landowners say the conditional permit issued by San Juan County expired before construction began and that the new owner of the project is shirking its mitigation requirements.
Salt Lake Tribune; 9/8/2015

Colorado city becomes third in U.S. to be powered by renewable energy
When Aspen signed a contract with Municipal Energy Agency of Nebraska to buy wind-generated power earlier this month, the Colorado city became the third in the nation to obtain all its electricity from renewable resources, with Burlington, Vermont, the first, followed by Greensburg, Kansas.
Aspen Times; 9/1/2015

Wind-energy producers report lagging second-quarter sales
NextEra Energy, NRG Yield and Duke Energy all reported lower wind resources resulted in lower second-quarter sales, a trend that has been reported throughout the wind industry, and producers aren't sure if the lack of wind is an anomaly or an indication of a less gusty future.
Denver Post (Bloomberg News); 9/8/2015

Utah needs to jumpstart its efforts to promote renewable energy
While hydrocarbon's role in the nation's, and Utah's, energy portfolio is assured in the near term, elected officials and business leaders in the Beehive State need to get in gear and work to wrap the state's considerable solar and wind resources into its energy picture, and they could start by getting the Latigo Wind Farm, which has been mired in controversy for years, up and running.
Salt Lake Tribune; 9/9/2015


Green Power House emerges from ashes of its predecessor in Montana
After Algae Aqua-Culture Technologies Inc.'s first power plant, which converted wood waste to algae and then to methane to run machines at the F.H. Stoltze Land and Lumber Co. in Columbia Falls burned to the ground nine months ago, a new plant is emerging from the ashes in Montana that will be bigger and better than the previous model.
Flathead Beacon; 9/25/2015


Hillary Clinton follows Keystone XL announcement with climate policy paper
On Tuesday, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton announced that she was opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline, which was proposed to speed the delivery of Alberta oil to refineries in the United States, and the former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. senator called Canadian oil the dirtiest fuel in North America. Clinton followed up her announcement with her plan to forge the "North American Climate Compact," to bring Canada, Mexico and the U.S. together to take steps to confront climate change. The announcement and her proposed plan injected the issue of climate change into federal elections in both the U.S. and Canada.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 9/23/2015

TransCanada drops lawsuit against Nebraska landowners for pipeline path
On Monday, the Alberta company that had sued 19 landowners in Nebraska to clear a path for the Keystone XL pipeline to carry crude oil south from Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, dropped those eminent domain lawsuits and said it would pursue approval for its project through the state's Public Service Commission. Company officials said the change in strategy will delay the national approval process to 2017, after President Barack Obama has left office.
Calgary Herald (Financial Post); 9/30/2015

Colorado community wants natural-gas pipeline moved
When the Rifle-to-Avon Natural Gas Pipeline was built in 1994, the Eagle Ranch Subdivision didn't exist, but since that time homes have been built on top of 4.6 miles of that pipeline, and SourceGas must upgrade that section of pipeline to meet federal standards or move it, and the company been working with the Bureau of Land Management and Eagle to explore different options, with residents of the Colorado community indicating they'd prefer the pipeline be rerouted.
Vail Daily (Eagle Valley Enterprise); 9/15/2015

Mexico lobbies Alberta oil, gas companies to build pipelines there
The recent decision of the Mexican government to allow foreign investment in the country's oil and gas industries has sent Mexico officials to Canada, where they met Monday with representatives of companies working in Alberta's oilpatch to urge them to invest in pipelines in Mexico.
Calgary Herald; 9/29/2015


Shipments of oil by rail on the rise again in Western Canada
In the second quarter of 2015, Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. reported a 24 percent drop in its shipments of oil by rail, while Canadian National Railway Co.'s year-over-year decrease for that quarter was 27 percent, but two pipeline shutdowns in August and the widening discount between Western Canada Select and West Texas Intermediate began to make shipping by rail more attractive, and on Monday, Calgary-based Cenovus Energy Inc. announced it had completed the purchase of Canexus Corp.’s Bruderheim Energy Terminal, and Cenovus officials said they're already fielding calls about gaining access to the terminal's 70,000-bpd rail capacity.
Calgary Herald (Financial Post); 9/3/2015

Tribe in Montana votes to oppose Tongue River Railroad plan
On Monday, the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council voted 9-0 to oppose the proposed Tongue River Railroad needed to transport coal from Montana's Otter Creek coal tracts to existing rail lines and, ultimately, to overseas markets.
Missoulian (Billings Gazette); 9/22/2015

Missoula City Council wants broader review of Tongue River Railroad in Montana
The Surface Transportation Board released its draft environmental analysis of the proposed Tongue River Railroad needed to access coal tracts in southeastern Montana in April, with the public comment period on the analysis to close on Wednesday, and on Monday night, the Missoula City Council approved a resolution asking the board to expand its analysis to cities that are located along the route coal shipped via the Tongue River Railroad.
Missoulian; 9/22/2015

Oil and Gas

Devon Energy dedicates $100M oil-recovery project in Wyoming
The Big Sand Draw C02 Enhanced Oil Recovery Facility near Riverton pumps carbon dioxide from Exxon's Shute Creek gas plant in Western Wyoming into the Big Sand Draw oilfield to pull oil from wells that are decades old. Devon Energy began pumping in June and production is now at 2,500 barrels of oil a day, and company officials predict that peak production of 5,000 barrels a day will be reached next year.
Casper Star-Tribune; 9/24/2015

Panel finds Montana site too culturally important to drill
The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP) held a rare public hearing on Sept. 2 on energy leases held by Louisiana-based Solonex in the Badger-Two Medicine area of Montana, long held sacred by the Blackfeet Nation, and on Sept. 21, issued the decision that the area was too culturally important to allow energy development. Solonex has a pending federal lawsuit to get the suspension of those leases put in place lifted.
Flathead Beacon; 9/22/2015

Federal appeals court returns energy lease dispute to Montana court
On Monday, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned U.S. District Court Judge Sam Haddon's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by the Montana Environmental Information Center, WildEarth Guardians and Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project to force oil and gas companies drilling on federal lands to reduce methane emissions from that work, and returned the lawsuit to Haddon's court for further litigation.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 9/2/2015

Briny wastewater from energy operations ruining farm, ranchlands
Data obtained by the Associated Press found that in the 11 states that produce 90 percent of the nation's onshore oil--Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Kansas, Utah and Montana--the spill of briny wastewater from those energy operations increased from 2,470 reported spills in 2009 that released 21.1 million gallons of briny water to 4,643 spills that released 43 million gallons of water in 2013.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 9/14/2015

Methane plume in Four Corners an issue at EPA's Colorado hearing
On Wednesday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency held a public hearing on federal plans to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operations by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels over the next decade, and the methane plume over Four Corners, which is currently under study, was a topic of discussion at the hearing, with industry representatives saying federal regulation could undercut voluntary actions, while residents of the Four Corners areas said the regulations are needed now.
Durango Herald; 9/24/2015

Oilfield worker deaths increased 27 percent between 2013, 2014
At a recent meeting of a consortium of oil and gas companies on worker safety in Colorado, the news that oilfield worker deaths in the United States climbed from 123 in 2013 to 142 in 2014 surprised attendees, who said companies are working together to promote worker safety.
Denver Post; 9/28/2015

Federal researchers delve into lives of energy workers in 3 states
Researchers from the Denver office of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health will travel next year to camps for energy workers, trucking and equipment yards and community centers in oilfield towns in Texas, North Dakota and an as-yet unnamed third state to hand out hundreds of surveys to energy workers to help them learn more about the hazardous work done in the oilfields and how to improve working conditions in what is considered to be one of the most dangerous industry in the nation.
Denver Post; 9/14/2015

Analysis: Low energy prices could cut Wyoming revenue by 10%
Using Wyoming Legislative Service Office numbers on how mineral prices change state revenue, WyoFile's analysis found that current oil and gas prices could mean 10 percent less revenue flowing to state coffers, and while Gov. Matt Mead did not put a number on his forecast, he did say, “We’re headed for lean times," at a recent press conference.; 9/1/2015

Colorado counties brace for declining oil, gas revenues

With oil prices $60 a barrel less than they were just a year ago, Colorado counties and cities that depend on the oil and gas industry for revenues are looking down the road to 2017, when the full effect of lower prices hits their budgets, and while Weld and Garfield counties will likely take the largest hit, county officials there have lived through similar busts and said the key to surviving the wild ride energy provides is to salt away money when revenues are high.
Denver Post; 9/14/2015

Utah refineries seek new sources of crude after firms exit Uinta Basin
Both Tesoro Corp and HollyFrontier Corp spent millions of dollars to upgrade their Utah refineries in recent years to handle the waxy crude from the Uinta Basin, but with the recent collapse of oil prices, two top producers have abandoned their work in that Utah Basin, with Newfield Exploration Co. focusing on its Oklahoma plays and Bill Barrett Corp on its plays in northeastern Colorado, forcing the Utah refineries to look elsewhere for crude.; 9/14/2015

Oil prices jump 27 percent in 3 days, fall 8 percent in 1
The price of oil has put the stock market's volatile nature to shame lately, jumping 27 percent in three days, and on Tuesday, dropping 8 percent. The per-barrel price closed Tuesday at $45.41, brought down by new indications that China's economy was slowing.
Casper Star-Tribune; 9/2/2015

New data showing lower U.S. oil production sends prices higher
The U.S. Energy Information Administration released new data on oil production that found lower rates than previously estimated, with daily production dropping in June to just under 9.3 million barrels, down 100,000 bpd from revised May figures, and the market immediately responded to the new numbers, with the per-barrel price of oil going up on Monday by 6 percent, adding to the $7-per barrel gain reported at the end of last week.
Reuters; 9/1/2015

Suncor buys larger share in Alberta oilsands mining project
Alberta-based Suncor Energy, which has its U.S. headquarters in Denver, announced it was buying an additional 10 percent stake in the Fort Hills oilsands mining project from Fort Hills oil-sands mining project from Total SA for $234 million, upping Suncor's ownership share of the Alberta project to 50.8 percent.
Denver Post (Bloomberg News); 9/22/2015

Alberta-based PHX Energy lays off half its 1,000 workers
PHX Energy Services Corp., which provides drilling technology and services to oil and gas companies in Canada and the United States, as well as other countries, announced Thursday that it was laying off 500 of its 1,000 workers, and that most of the jobs lost were in Alberta.
Calgary Herald (Bloomberg News); 9/14/2015

Nexen shuts down Long Lake oilsands operation in Alberta
The Alberta Energy Regulator ordered Nexen Energy to shut down 95 pipelines in the province on Aug. 25 after Nexen self-reported that it had not been complying with maintenance and monitoring regulations, after which Nexen shut down its Long Lake steam-assisted gravity drainage operation.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 9/2/2015

Statistics Canada: Energy ends its run as country's top export
In July, cars edged out energy as Canada's largest export, according to a report from Statistics Canada released Thursday said that July's exports of motor vehicles and parts were valued at $7.6 billion, while energy exports were valued at $7.3 billion, putting energy second for the first time since 2007.
Calgary Herald (Bloomberg News); 9/3/2015

Energy companies cut hundreds of jobs in Alberta
ConocoPhillips Canada announced Tuesday it was shedding 15 percent of its workforce, with most of the 400 layoffs occurring in Calgary, a move mirrored by Penn West Petroleum Ltd.'s announcement that it was cutting 35 percent of its workforce, which also cut 400 jobs, primarily in the Alberta city.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 9/1/2015


Hydraulic Fracturing

B.C. panel issues precedent-setting decision on hydraulic fracturing license
The B.C. Environmental Appeal Board issued a decision Sept. 3 that said Nexen's water license for a hydraulic fracturing operation in northeast British Columbia should be rescinded because the province did not consult with the Fort Nelson First Nation before issuing the license, and that the permit was not scientifically sound.
Vancouver Sun; 9/8/2015

Colorado high court to hear cases on hydraulic fracturing ban, moratorium
The Colorado Supreme Court will hear appeals of court decisions arising out of Longmont's ban on hydraulic fracturing operations and Fort Collins' five-year moratorium on the drilling operation. Both lower courts ruled that regulation of the drilling method was the under the control of Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, both Longmont and Fort Collins appealed those decisions to the Colorado Appeals Court, which asked the high court to take the cases.
Denver Post; 9/22/2015


Wyoming, Alpha Resources reach deal on reclamation bonding
An agreement between Virginia-based Alpha Natural Resources and Wyoming gives the state "superpriority" status for $61 million for coal mine reclamation requirements while the company goes through Chapter 11 reorganization, and ends the state's attempt to revoke the company's $411 million self-bonded reclamation. The agreement must be approved by the federal bankruptcy court and will terminate once the company emerges from bankruptcy.
Casper Star-Tribune; 9/9/2015

Interior Department signs off on Colorado coal mine plan
In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians, a federal judge in Colorado in May ordered the U.S. Interior Department to complete an additional analysis of the Colowyo mine in Colorado to determine how the coal mined there contributed to climate change, and on Tuesday, just five days before the deadline passed, the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation Enforcement recommended that the mine be kept open, and the Interior Department released a statement today that said Assistant Secretary of the Interior Janice Schneider signed off on the mining plan, "which will allow the mine to continue operation in a manner consistent with Federal and state requirements." The New Mexico-based environmental group filed similar actions requesting additional analysis of the Spring Creek mine near the Montana-Wyoming border in the coal-rich Powder River Basin and the San Juan coal mine in New Mexico.
Grand Junction Sentinel; 9/4/2015

Federal judge OKs expansion plan for 2nd Colorado coal mine
In May, a federal judge in Colorado sided with WildEarth Guardians and ruled that the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement erred in its environmental review and approval of expansion plans for the Colowyo and the Trapper mines in Colorado, and ordered a new environmental review on the Colowyo mine as the judge did not believe there was any more coal to be mined in the expansion area of the Trapper mine, but the attorneys for the Trapper Mining Co. learned there was more coal to be mined there, and the mining company and WildEarth Guardians reached a deal on further environmental review, and the judge signed off on it Monday.
Grand Junction Sentinel; 9/15/2015

WildEarth Guardians expands challenge of coal mines in the West
Spurred on by success in Colorado where WildEarth Guardians won federal court case requiring the expansion of federal review of coal mines to consider climate change when reviewing applications for permits to mine coal, the group filed similar challenges to halt operations at Antelope Mine and Black Thunder mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, the El Segundo Mine in New Mexico and the Bowie No. 2 Mine in Colorado, with the latest challenge seeking a cumulative review of those mines and whether the nation should continue mining coal.
U.S. News and World Report (AP); 9/21/2015

Wyoming coal company releases counterstudy on coal leasing
A study done by Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics faulted the federal coal-leasing revenue structure for not getting a fair price for coal mined on federal lands, but a new study, commissioned by Cloud Peak Energy, a Wyoming-based coal mining company, said Headwaters Economics' report was rife with errors that included poor-quality data, over-estimating coal prices, and not factoring in non-federal coal in areas where there is a mixture of ownership of coal.
Wyoming Business Report; 9/18/2015

Montana, B.C. group tackles selenium flowing into Lake Koocanusa
The Elk River flows through an area in British Columbia where there are five existing coal mines, all of which are proposing expansions, and into Lake Koocanusa in Montana, carrying high levels of selenium in the water, and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposing new limits on selenium, a working group has formed to figure out how to reduce the mineral, which makes its way from the water up the food chain from vegetation to fish to fowl.
Flathead Beacon; 9/30/2015

Wyoming regulators deny ninth extension for Two Elk Power plant
At its meeting on Monday, the Wyoming Industrial Siting Council declined to give North American Power Group a ninth extension on its permit to build the Two Elk Power Plant near Wright. The project was first proposed in 1996 as a coal-fired plant, then subsequently a biomass plant and currently a natural-gas power plant. A spokesman for the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality said the Council's decision will allow the DEQ to withdraw the permit, but North American Power Group officials said they will continue to pursue the project.
Casper Star-Tribune; 9/1/2015

Psst -- Utah -- even Goldman Sachs won't bet on coal
One would think that, after Goldman Sachs sold the last of its stakes in coal mines in August, and then told its clients that the price of coal was likely to stay down forever, that members of the Utah Community Impact Board, who should be abreast of the conditions of the coal market since they're charged with investing royalties from coal and other minerals pulled from federal lands, would walk away from investing $53 million in a coal-export terminal project in California, but alas, that is not the case.
Salt Lake Tribune; 9/25/2015

U.S. House panel advances bill to end oil-export ban
The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 31-19 today to advance a measure that would end a four-decade ban on the U.S. export of oil, putting the bill on a path for a vote before the full House. The White House opposes the measure, saying such a decision should be made by the Commerce Department.
Salt Lake Tribune (AP); 9/17/2015

Idaho Power seeks Idaho PUC approval of Integrated Resource Plan
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is taking public comment on Idaho Power's Integrated Resource Plan through Oct. 5. Among the information contained in the plan: the utility predicts surplus power through the mid-2020s; it plans to close a coal-fired power plant in Nevada by 2025, but will maintain an ownership interest in a coal-fired plant in Rock Springs, Wyo.
Idaho Statesman; 9/29/2015

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"T here's some good stuff in there. But we’re disappointed that it took five years and we don't think it's as significant as (federal officials) tried to portray it."

Carl Weimer, the executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a Bellingham, Washington-based advocacy group, about the new pipeline safety regulations rolled out Thursday by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
- Flathead Beacon (AP)

On The Bookshelf

Mountain West Perspectives
Montana's two-year colleges revamp education to meet changing workplace demands


Mountain West Voices
Hear weekly stories from the Rocky Mountain West as gathered by Clay Scott

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West

at the

The University of Montana