Energy Briefs: Trump names energy agency head, Wyoming's coal sector and more

Associated Press
President Trump

Trump names lawyer to head beleaguered energy agency

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Donald Trump has nominated energy lawyer Kevin McIntyre to chair the vacancy-plagued commission that oversees the nation's power grid and natural gas pipelines.

Only one commissioner currently serves on the five-member Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, leaving it without a quorum and unable to make decisions on interstate pipelines and other projects worth billions of dollars.

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The FERC vacancies hobble the agency's ability to make decisions and threaten to undermine Trump's promise of U.S. "energy dominance" in the global market. More than a dozen major projects and utility mergers have been in regulatory limbo for months, including the $2 billion Nexus pipeline in Ohio and Michigan; the $1 billion PennEast pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey; and the $5 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina.

If confirmed by the Senate, McIntyre, a Republican, would lead the five-member panel. Trump has nominated Republicans Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson to the commission and has said he intends to nominate Democrat Richard Glick.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved the two GOP nominees, but no vote has been scheduled in the Senate. Glick has not been formally nominated, but he is likely to be paired with McIntyre for Senate consideration.

Utility finishes work on electric loop in eastern New Mexico

ROSWELL, N.M. (AP) - Xcel Energy says construction crews have wrapped up work on another segment of a transmission line that makes up a new power loop around one eastern New Mexico community.

The utility announced this week that it has energized a 10-mile segment of the line between two substations that straddle Roswell.

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The loop project started in 2013 with an upgrade to the Capitan Substation to accommodate 115-kilovolt transmission service. Another segment of the loop is scheduled to be completed in 2018.

The work is part of a larger effort by Xcel to bolster the grid across the utility's service area in eastern New Mexico and Texas. Officials say almost 100 miles (160 kilometers) of new transmission line will be built across both states in 2017 and more than 500 miles (804 kilometers) by 2021.

Wyoming's coal sector improving, but many jobs may not return

CASPER, Wyoming (AP) - The coal industry in Wyoming has started to rebound but companies are hesitant to hire many workers because of lingering uncertainty, a state economist said.

"We are starting to see production come back up, but we are not seeing those jobs show up yet with that," Jim Robinson, principal economist with the state's Economic Analysis Division, said.

Over the last couple of years, three major coal companies operating in the state went into bankruptcy because of low prices, competition from natural gas and federal regulations targeting fossil fuel emissions.

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Wyoming coal mines lost nearly 1,000 workers between 2015 and 2016, according to the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services annual coal report.

Those numbers have improved modestly, drawing back some of the miners who lost their jobs to the season of layoffs, said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.

"We brought back about a third of those jobs that we lost," he told the Casper Star-Tribune. "And there are still some companies out there looking to hire right now."

But Deti does not expect employment numbers to continue to rise because companies have reorganized and become leaner.

"It's a pretty good snapshot of where we are going to be going forward," Deti said. "The industry has tightened its belt, it's downsized. They are doing a lot more with less; they're becoming more efficient and watching their pennies."

Given the lessons learned in the recent bust, if Wyoming coal production does rise in the next few years, the potential uptick may not translate to significant job growth.

Early plan out for huge Wyoming gas field

CHEYENNE, Wyoming (AP) - U.S. officials have released an early plan for what could become one of the biggest natural gas fields in the nation.

The Normally Pressured Lance Field in western Wyoming could eventually cover 220 square miles and have as many as 3,500 wells. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management released a draft environmental impact study for the project Friday.

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Jonah Energy, LLC, seeks to tap 5.25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or a year's supply for 74 million average-sized homes.

BLM officials say the project would create 700 full-time jobs and net $2.2 billion in royalties, half of which would go to the state of Wyoming. The nearby Jonah and Pinedale Anticline fields in western Wyoming rank among the 10 most productive onshore U.S. gas fields.

Drilling plan in SW Wyoming draws opposition

JACKSON, Wyoming (AP) - An energy company is proposing to drill up to 3,500 natural gas wells on 220 square miles (570 square kilometers) of Bureau of Land Management property in southwest Wyoming.

The proposed project by Jonah Energy would be adjacent to the already developed Pinedale Anticline and Jonah fields.

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The Jackson Hole News & Guide reports that the project must navigate the lengthy federal environmental review before it adds to the activity. Though the proposal remains tentative it is already a cause of worry for conservationists.

Linda Baker of the Upper Green River Alliance says drilling in the Anticline and Jonah fields has already taken a toll by disturbing the sensitive ecology of sagebrush steppe ecosystem and polluting the air that people breathe.