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Mountain West News Energy Review

February, 2015:

Pipelines again received a lot of attention in February. The cleanup of the spill of oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana was complicated by rapidly changing conditions of the ice caused by warming, and then freezing, temperatures. The state wildlife agency issued an advisory against consuming fish caught near the spill as tests of fish came back positive for oil.

President Obama issued his promised veto of the bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta oil south to refineries in the United States, and Alberta and Alaska are in talks about a pipeline to move Alberta crude west to ports on Alaska's coast.

TransCanada is pitching a new pipeline that would cross the border to carry North Dakota north into Canada.

Much of the oil from North Dakota's Bakken region is being ferried to market in oil trains, and an oil train carrying Bakken crude derailed in West Virginia, exploded and burned. No fatalities were reported but communities did have to be evacuated. The oil cars that exploded and burned were of the next generation, built to be less likely to rupture, which sparked a new push for more safety features for the tanker cars and regulation of oil trains.

The price of oil continues to bounce around the $50 per barrel figure, bouncing up to $60 per barrel and then falling to around $48 per barrel. There were more announcements of slashed revenues from oil companies in Canada and the U.S., but Anadarko said an increase in production in Colorado's Wattenberg Field propped up its earnings, and in Wyoming, Chesapeake Energy said that, while it was making cuts in other areas of operation, its work in the Powder River Basin would increase this year.

Mountain West Perspective

Montana's two-year colleges revamp curricula to meet changing workplace demands
Nov. 20, 2014

On the Bookshelf

Barbara Theroux reviews Liz Carlisle's "Lentil Underground: Renegade farmers and the future of food in America"

Feb. 20, 2015

Mountain West Voices

Yellowstone Public Radio will broadcast Mountain West Voices at 7:05 a.m. on Sunday.

Since this month marks the 70th anniversary of the American invasion of Iwo Jima, one of the deadliest battles in the Pacific during World War II, producer Danielle Thomsen recently spoke with a survivor of that battle, 88-year-old Paul Milam.

Milam recalls his impressions of Iwo Jima as an inexperienced 19-year-old from Bozeman, Mont.

Tune in to Yellowstone Public Radio at 7:05 Sunday morning, or listen to the program via the Mountain West Voices website.

University of Montana lecture series focuses on Wilderness as a laboratory

  • March 3:  Dr. Natalie Dawson, “Please carry this solar panel and other requests for free labor

  • March 10: Bruce Smith, The Mountain Goat: An American Wilderness Icon"
  • March 17:  Dr. Bob Ream, "Wilderness Research Then and Now: The Wilderness Institute’s Fortieth Year"

April 1- May 1: Free, online class on Water in the American West offered by The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado


Colorado utility seeks moderation in solar-power production
The number of solar-power installations has surged in the area served by the La Plata Electric Association in Colorado, but there is a danger that when too much solar power is fed back into the grid, the voltage increase can damage appliances or the grid itself, so the cooperative is examining each new solar installation proposed to see what the cumulative effect of adding the new solar-generated power may have on the grid.
Durango Herald; 2/4/2015

B.C. roofing company takes a shine to solar panel business
The president of Penfold's Roofing, one of the largest roofing companies in Vancouver, B.C., said the company is now getting into the business of installing solar panels on roofs because company workers are up there anyway and the cost of the solar panels have reached a level where it pencils out for the company, and Vancouver Renewable Energy Cooperative, which has been putting up such installations for a decade, is now moving into a commercial leasing option for solar panels, which the cooperative said makes more financial sense.
Vancouver Sun; 2/19/2015

Test of solar power concentrator in Nevada kills scores of birds
The Jan. 14 test of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Project near Tonopah resulted in the deaths of 130 birds, which biologists said they watched catch fire when they flew into an area of concentrated solar power, but SolarReserve, the project's owner, said steps were taken immediately to change the position of some of the mirrors and a subsequent test on Jan. 15 resulted in no additional bird deaths.; 2/19/2015


Wyoming wind farms generate $4.4M in revenue for counties, state
Last year, Wyoming received $4.4 million in tax revenue from wind power projects, with the state keeping $1.7 million and passing $2.7 million along to Albany, Carbon, Converse, Laramie, Natrona and Uinta counties.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 2/23/2015


Hydropower plant on Idaho irrigation canal set to go online
Work is nearly complete on the North Side Canal Co.'s new diversion gate that is also a hydropower plant, which will generate 1.28 megawatts of power that the Idaho irrigation company will sell to Idaho Power. The new hydropower plant is the smallest of the five on the Main Canal.
Twin Falls Times-News; 2/17/2015

Transmission/Pipeline Projects

President Obama issues expected veto of Keystone XL pipeline bill
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and the state's federal delegation all criticized President Obama's veto of the Keystone XL pipeline project on Tuesday, but landowners in Eastern Montana across whose lands the pipeline would pass on its way to a hub in Oklahoma applauded the action.
Great Falls Tribune; 2/25/2015

Fort Peck tribes in Montana pass resolution opposing Keystone XL pipeline
The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation may be the first in Montana to formally oppose the Keystone XL pipeline project, and tribal officials said the recent pipeline break in the Yellowstone River was the last straw that prompted the resolution opposing the project, which the tribes fear put their water system at risk.
Great Falls Tribune; 2/26/2015

Alberta, Alaska in talks about new pipeline to carry oil west
Opposition to both the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines have stalled those avenues to move Alberta crude to overseas markets, and now the province is in talks with Alberta about the possibility of building a pipeline through Canada’s Yukon and Northwest Territories and then west to existing Pacific ports.
Calgary Herald (Bloomberg News); 2/9/2015

TransCanada seeks U.S. approval of pipeline to move N.D. oil north
To lower their dependence on rail to move their oil to market, North Dakota operators are supporting TransCanada's proposed Upland Pipeline project, a $600 million pipeline that would move oil from the Bakken 200 miles north into Canada, and TransCanada has begun the paperwork to get State Department approval of the Upland Project. The Alberta company has tried unsuccessfully for years to get U.S. State Department approval for its Keystone XL project, which would move Alberta oil south to U.S. refineries.
Denver Post (AP); 2/20/2015

USGS study ties arsenic releases to oil spills
A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey found that the chemical process that occurs when bacteria breaks down petroleum underground releases naturally occurring arsenic into groundwater, and Montana Department of Environmental Quality workers are testing private water wells near where the oil spill into the Yellowstone River occurred on Jan. 17 to see if any oil made it into those wells, which could lead to the arsenic mobilization process.
Missoulian; 2/2/2015

Company that owned Montana oil pipeline has history of leaks
The True Co. of Wyoming owns both the Belle Fourche Pipeline Co. and Bridger Pipeline LLC, which operated the pipeline in Montana that recently ruptured and spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil in the Yellowstone River, and a review of the company's records found that there have been 30 spills reported, federal fines levied and a citation that warned that the company did not learn from past mistakes.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/1/2015

Pipeline spills in Colorado flow through regulatory cracks
There have been 13 spills from oil and gas pipelines in Colorado over the past year, and while none of the spills were large, the fact that the miles and miles of production and other pipelines that carry natural gas liquids appear to fall into regulatory vacuum should be, since the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's authority appears to be limited to the well pad, the federal government exercises control over pipelines that cross state lines, and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission regulates just nonliquid gas lines.
Denver Post; 2/24/2015

North Dakota struggles to clean up spill of discharge water
The water that is produced during drilling operations in North Dakota is 17 times saltier than ocean water, making remediation of the landscape affected by a recent pipeline break that released 3 million gallons of the water in Western North Dakota a major concern, with Dave Glatt, head of the North Dakota Department of Health’s Environmental Health division, saying that, without appropriate technology to clean up wastewater spills, the state could be left with "dead zones."; 2/4/2015

N.D. reports contamination levels from pipeline spill dropping
North Dakota Department of Health official Dave Glatt reported today that high chloride levels found in stretches of the Missouri River and the Little Muddy River following last month's pipeline leak that released 3 million gallons of briny water had fallen to near normal levels.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 2/10/2015


More cars found leaking oil on trip from N.D. to refineries in Washington state
Last month, 14 cars of a 100-car oil train hauling North Dakota crude to a refinery in Anacortes, Wash., were removed at stops in Idaho and Washington state after they were found to be leaking, but BNSF Railway officials said less than 25 gallons of oil was lost due to the leaking cars, all of which were the newer CPC-1232 tank cars designed to higher safety standards. Of greater concern to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is that the report on the oil leaks wasn't made within the 30-minute timeline required under state law.
Spokane Spokesman-Review; 2/12/2015

USDOT analysis forecast 207 energy train derailments over 2 decades
In the analysis done by the U.S. Department of Transportation last year, officials said that, based on past accidents reported, the marked increase in fuels shipped by rail, and the routes that the trains take, there could be up at 15 oil and fuel train derailments in 2015, declining to five a year by 2034, and averaging 10 annually.
Missoulian (AP); 2/22/2015

Recent train derailments, fires increase pressure to improve rail safety
On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent proposed regulations to make shipping oil by rail safer to the White House, and within two weeks there were two derailments of oil trains that caused fires and explosions, one in Canada and other in West Virginia, and industry analysts believe that those incidents may make the federal government less likely to be amenable to the softening of any regulations aimed improving the safety of shipping oil by rail.
Missoulian (AP); 2/27/2015

Montana Public Radio explores concerns about shipping oil by rail
The U.S. Department of Transportation's analysis of the safety of shipping oil by rail, coupled with the recent train derailment in West Virginia, where the next-generation of tank cars built to better withstand derailments exploded and caught fire, have raised concerns about those trains in Western Montana and elsewhere, and Montana Public Radio talks with a resident of Alberton, who lived through the 1996 derailment that spilled chlorine and forced the evacuation of that town, as well as Chad Nicholson, Missoula’s Assistant Fire Chief, and Ed Greenberg, a spokesman for The Association of American Railroads.
Montana Public Radio (; 2/27/2015

Oil train derails in W. Va., causing explosion, dumping cars in river
An oil train derailed in West Virginia on Monday, creating an explosion that caused at least 17 of those cars to catch fire, and sent some of the cars into the Kanawha River near Mount Carbon, forcing cities downriver of the accident to shut down their water intakes over concern about spilled oil. The cars are being allowed to burn out.
Washington Post (AP); 2/17/2015

Report says flawed rail caused 2013 fiery train derailment in Alberta
The Transportation Safety Board released its report on its investigation of the Oct. 19, 2013 train derailment in Alberta, that said a rail defect was to blame for the derailment and subsequent explosion and fire and the evacuation of the small community of Gainford, west of Edmonton.
Calgary Herald (Edmonton Journal); 2/24/2015

More needs to be done to make shipping oil by rail safer
Last week's derailment and explosion of railcars carrying Bakken oil could have been much worse, given the train's proximity to heavily populated areas, but the U.S. and the states must not wait for a tragedy like the one in Quebec where an oil train derailment and explosion destroyed a portion of a small town and killed 43 people to take steps to make moving oil by rail safer, including requiring shippers to reduce the volatility of the crude before loading it onto trains.
New York Times; 2/21/2015

Rail safety regulations have a way to go in Canada, U.S.
The Transportation Safety Board's report on the 2013 derailment and fire in Alberta near Gainford found that undetected rail defects were to blame in that accident, and the news out of the U.S. that a train derailment involving the newer model tank cars caused an explosion and fire that forced the evacuation of two towns are evidence that more needs to be done to make shipping oil by rail more safe, and given that crude oil exports from Canada to the U.S. have increased from 15,980 barrels a day in the first quarter of 2012 to 182,059 barrels a day in the third quarter of 2014, the changes can't come soon enough. A column by Stephen Ewart.
Calgary Herald; 2/25/2015

Oil and Gas

BLM defers sale of energy leases in Wyoming near Casper
Twelve parcels covering 22,000 acres of land in Wyoming near Casper were pulled from the Bureau of Land Management's Feb. 4 auction of energy leases to give the federal agency some time to meet with landowners whose lands could be affected by drilling as they don't own the mineral rights under their property.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/11/2015

BLM pulls 36 of 53 leases from Utah auction
Concerns about archaeological resources around Alkali Ridge, Montezuma Canyon and other areas in southeastern Utah were cited by Bureau of Land Management officials for pulling 36 of the 53 leases the agency had planned to auction next week, and another nine were pulled because of split-estate ownership, where the BLM owns the subsurface minerals but not the surface.
Salt Lake Tribune; 2/13/2015

Energy operations, subdivisions collide along Colorado's Front Range
Colorado's growing communities along the Front Range and the fast-expanding energy industry are colliding in subdivisions, and at the epicenter is Weld County, where most of the 5,000 drilling permits issued over the past two years are located. This is the first of three stories on Colorado's energy industry and how it is affecting communities.
Denver Post; 2/18/2015

Colorado task force on oil, gas operations settles on 9 recommendations
The 21-member oil and gas task force appointed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to iron out land-use disputes between local governments and oil and gas operations voted to send nine recommendations to the governor on Tuesday, including one that calls for more inspectors of such operations.
Denver Post; 2/25/2015

Energy boom raises cost of living in Wyoming town

Douglas is roughly 350 miles east from Jackson, the resort community in Western Wyoming that has the highest cost of living, but the recent energy boom has lifted the cost of living in Douglas to second highest in the state, and education officials said that, at a time there is a rising need for teachers due to an increase in students, the high cost of living in the boom town makes it hard to find teachers.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/26/2015

Wyoming gets plenty of feedback on energy setbacks
The comment period for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission's proposal to increase the minimum distance between drilling rigs and homes from 350 feet to 500 feet closed on Monday, and 150 groups and individuals weighed in on the proposal, including real estate agents and groups, as well as homeowners, who pressed for a larger setback, and the Petroleum Association of Wyoming supports the measure.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/24/2015

Utah permit to expand tar sands mining operation faces challenge
On Wednesday, Western Resource Advocates filed on behalf of Living Rivers a challenge of the Utah Division of Water Quality's permit that will allow Alberta-based U.S. Oil Sands to expand the state's first commercial tar sands mine in eastern Utah, which Living Rivers says puts drinking water resources at risk.
Salt Lake Tribune; 2/19/2015

Utah's largest oil producer to clean up wetlands, pay fine to settle EPA case
Newfield Production Co., a subsidiary of Newfield Exploration Co., completed a self audit of 45 well sites in Utah's Uintah and Duchesne counties in 2012 and found that 19 had affected wetlands, rivers, streams and other waterways without having a permit to do so from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and now the company has agreed to restore 13 acres of wetlands and create 10 more acres of wetlands and pay a $75,000 fine to settle the EPA's claims under the Clean Water Act.
Deseret News; 2/4/2015

Anadarko's bottom line for 2014 bolstered by production in Colorado
The drop in oil prices over the past eight months or so hit Anadarko Petroleum Co.'s bottom line for the fourth quarter, but Anadarko officials said increases in production in its Wattenberg Field in Colorado helped soften the blow of low prices.
Denver Post; 2/4/2015

Chesapeake Energy says drilling cuts won't happen in Wyoming
The current drop in oil prices has companies across the United States and Canada cutting costs and laying off workers, but on Wednesday, Chesapeake Energy, which is also trimming its workforce, assured Wyoming workers that no cuts are being made in the Cowboy State and that spending in the Powder River Basin will increase 5 percent in 2015 over 2014 spending.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/26/2015

Canada's largest oil company reports 81% drop in earnings
Alberta-based Suncor Energy Inc., Canada's biggest oil and gas company, reported its fourth-quarter earnings of $84 million, down from $443 million for the same quarter last year.
Calgary Herald (Canadian Press); 2/5/2015

Lower oil prices have Alberta oilsands producers cutting costs
Companies that provide services to Alberta's oilsands producers, like Kal Tire, whose crews fix the massive tires on the haul trucks, have had to cut crews as producers curb costs, but oil production continues, in part because the projects are too large to shut down and because companies have to keep producing oil to service the massive debt on the operations.
New York Times; 2/3/2015

Another Nebraska county opposes Colorado firm's water disposal plan
On Wednesday, Sioux County commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission stating the county's opposition to Colorado-based Terex Energy Corp.'s plan to dispose of discharge water from drilling operations in Colorado and Wyoming in an abandoned oil well on a ranch in Northwest Nebraska, joining adjacent Scotts Bluff County in opposing the plan. The Nebraska board will hold a hearing on the plan March 24.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 2/20/2015

Natural gas processing plant in Wyoming goes online
The Bucking Horse natural gas facility in Douglas, a joint venture between Williams Partners and Crestwood Midstream Partners, will process gas collected from drilling operations in Wyoming's Powder River Basin including in Converse County, where Chesapeake's natural gas output has grown from 5 billion cubic feet in 2012 to 21 billion cubic feet last year.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/10/2015

Canada announces tax break for LNG industry
British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and liquefied natural gas industry officials applauded Prime Minister Stephen Harper's announcement that Canada would offer tax breaks on such projects through 2024.
Vancouver Sun; 2/20/2015

Wyoming governor signs alternative-fuels tax into law
On July 1, alternative fuels including natural gas, pure ethanol, E85 and biodiesel will be subject to the same fuel tax as gasoline and diesel after Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead signed into law legislation extending the reach of the state's fuel tax.
Casper Star-Tribune (AP); 2/27/2015

BLM's deferment of Utah leases choses the irreplaceable over the finite
The decision of the Bureau of Land Management to pull 36 of 53 leases it planned to auction this week win Utah as a wise one, as the leases are in areas of untold archaeological resources, as well as in an area that could be protected under Utah U.S. Rob Bishop's sweeping Public Land Initiative, and the delay in leasing the parcels for oil and gas development will not hurt the industry one iota, given the hundreds of leases currently available that have not yet been developed, not to mention current low oil prices.
Salt Lake Tribune; 2/16/2015

Colorado oil, gas panel took a good first step in resolving dispute
The 21-member task force appointed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to iron out land-use differences between the state, local governments and the oil and gas industry failed to arrive at any solution to the crux of the dispute that lead to the creation of the task force, which was whether local governments can impose and enforce any regulation on the oil and gas industry that supersede state regulations, but the recommendations made by the committee are a step forward.
Durango Herald; 2/27/2015

Hydraulic Fracturing

Alberta earthquake may be linked to hydraulic fracturing work
Officials with the Alberta Energy Regulator said that their investigation into the 4.4 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 22 near Fox Creek said that the seismic activity could be tied to hydraulic fracturing operations in the area, although the agency had not completely ruled out it was a naturally occurring event.
Calgary Herald (Edmonton Journal); 1/28/2015

Report faults energy companies, Dutch government for ignoring earthquakes
A report issued last week by an independent Dutch safety panel found that Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil, the two operators in the largest natural gas field in Europe, as well as the Dutch government, put financial and energy security concerns ahead of safety concerns when they ignored for years the dangers associated with earthquakes in the Dutch province of Groningen.
New York Times; 2/20/2015

Denver officials must not let national activists control oil, gas debate
A closer examination of the participants who rallied against hydraulic fracturing in Denver on Tuesday finds many belong to national groups who want to ban the drilling method everywhere, and Colorado residents should ignore this misguided campaign driven by out-of-state interests and instead focus on providing input to the Colorado task force examining energy regulations.
Denver Post; 2/11/2015


Kentucky company thinks small for new coal mine in Wyoming
Ramaco, the Kentucky company that believes new technology can bring profitable coal mining back to an area of Wyoming north of Sheridan, is working on a plan to mine roughly 8 million tons a year, bringing 250 jobs and an estimated $270 million in direct wages over the life of the mine.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/8/2015

Coal production in 2014 in Colorado lowest in 20 years
In 2014, the eight coal mines in Colorado produced a little less than 23 million tons of coal, 5 percent less than in 2013. The state's production of coal has dropped 39 percent over the past 20 years, and 20 percent of the state's mining jobs were lost last year.
Denver Post; 2/11/2015

Wyoming coal company posts $79M in profit for 2014
While other, larger coal companies like Arch Coal, Peabody Energy and Alpha Natural Resources posted losses for last year, Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy posted $79 million in profit, due in part to the cost of mining in the state's Powder River Basin, and despite challenges of getting its coal to market due to congested rail lines.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/19/2015

PPL Montana to permanently shut down Colstrip power plant
After further consideration, PPL Montana officials said that, instead of temporarily shutting down the J.L. Corette coal-fired power plant near Billings in April, they would permanently shut down the plant in August.
Flathead Beacon (AP); 2/11/2015

Wyoming, Montana differ on response to EPA's new coal regs
New regulations of coal-fired power plants proposed under the Obama Administration's "Clean Power Plan," which would reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 30 percent of 2005 levels within the next 15 years, have elicited different responses in Wyoming and Montana, with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead fighting the regulations every step of the way and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock planning to comply, different responses which could be linked to the amount of coal-fired power generated in each of the two states.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/7/2015

Wyoming's budget still contains $10M for coal-to-fuels plant
For more than 10 years, Wyoming's budget has contained $10 million for infrastructure work needed for DKRW Advanced Fuels $2 billion coal gasification plant in Medicine Bow, and although the legislators have had to find a new source for those funds after the original source, the federal Abandoned Mine Land program, dried up, the new proposed budget again has the $10 million item.
Casper Star-Tribune; 2/17/2015

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"T he more incidents we have, the less likely the administration will be willing to listen to industry. I think the railroad industry starts to lose credibility every time there is an accident."

Brigham McCown, who was head of the federal agency responsible for safe transportation of hazardous materials during President George W. Bush's administration, about how recent derailments of oil trains could affect proposed regulations for those trains in the U.S.
- Missoulian (AP)

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews Liz Carlisle's 'Lentil Underground'


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


A Look Ahead

Feb. 3-March 24: Wilderness Lecture series hosted by the Wilderness Institute at the University of Montana in Missoula

    March 3: Dr. Natalie Dawson, “Please carry this solar panel and other requests for free labor

    March 10: Bruce Smith, The Mountain Goat: An American Wilderness Icon"

    March 17: Dr. Bob Ream, "Wilderness Research Then and Now: The Wilderness Institute’s Fortieth Year"

April 1-May 1: Water in the American West, a free, online college level course, offered by The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado. Register now.

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