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Wyoming Supreme Court makes it harder for fossil fuel companies to hide fracking cocktail ingredients

Drill rig in a natural gas field in Wyoming. Credit: SkyTruth, flickr

Drill rig in a natural gas field in Wyoming. Credit: SkyTruth, flickr

Ruling narrows trade secret loophole

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Fossil fuel companies in Wyoming may soon have to disclose more the chemicals they use for fracking, as the Wyoming Supreme Court decided this week that the state’s oil and gas commission has the burden of justifying the use of a trade secrets exemption that has enabled companies to keep their toxic recipes secret.

“The Wyoming Supreme Court affirmed that the public’s right to know is paramount under state law. If fracking operators don’t want to reveal what chemicals they use, they will have to prove that the chemicals are trade secrets, which means they shouldn’t be able to capriciously keep secrets from the public about dangerous chemicals,” said Katherine O’Brien, an attorney with Earthjustice, which represents the plaintiffs. Continue reading

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Environment: Does coalbed methane development in Wyoming affect water quality?

Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

FRISCO — Some Wyoming watersheds may be showing signs of wear and tear due to coalbed methane development, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study done on the Powder and Tongue river basins in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.

According to the USGS, three sites on the Powder River show a difference in water quality between the time before coalbed methane development and during the production period. But thirteen other sites, including mainstem and tributaries to the Tongue and Powder Rivers in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, showed few substantial differences in water quality between the two time periods. Continue reading

Wyoming wolf battle far from over, as wildlife advocates challenge delisting in federal court

Gray wolves a. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Gray wolves are facing state-sanctioned slaughter in Wyoming. Photo courtesy USFWS.

Lawsuit says state management plan is inadequate

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Wildlife advocates say that, without federal protection, wolves in Wyoming could soon be back on the ropes because of anti-wolf state policy that does little to protect the predators.

Based on those concerns, conservation groups sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The court heard arguments in the case on Dec. 17, with Earthjustice attorney Tom Preso asking the judge to restore Endangered Species Act protections to gray wolves in Wyoming until state officials develop a stronger wolf conservation plan. Continue reading

Wildlife conservation groups say cultural hostility to grizzlies could threaten their recovery in northern Rockies

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Grizzlies may still be facing some challenges despite making a good recovery in the northern Rockies. Photo courtesy Dr. Christopher Servheen, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Feds taking comment on plan to hand over management to states

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation groups led by the Center for Biological Diversity say a federal plan for Yellowstone grizzly bears puts their fate in the hands of states that are “culturally hostile” to large carnivores. The recovery plan could put grizzlies back on the road toward extinction, the group warned in their comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wildlife conservation advocates are also worried that the plan doesn’t do enough to safeguard connectivity between populations. They want the federal wildlife agency to maintain Endangered Species Act protections for the bears until these issues can be resolved. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Study sheds new light on wolf predation

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Hunting wolves may have less of an impact on elk herds than previously believed. Photo via USFWS.

Three-year tracking project helps show that wolves alone aren’t necessarily responsible for declining elk populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — For quite some time, conventional wisdom has held that the presence of wolves in the Greater Yellowstone area has had beneficial impacts on the overall ecosystem by keeping elk on the move.

But a new study, led by recent University of Wyoming Ph.D. graduate Arthur Middleton, casts some doubt on that theory. For three years, the researchers closely followed the  Clarks Fork elk herd west of Cody, along with the wolf packs that prey on it. Continue reading

Wildlife: Wolves under siege in the northern Rockies

Lawsuit filed to prevent wolf slaughter in Wyoming

Gray wolf. Photo courtesy USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Federal wolf management in the northern Rockies will once again be tested in court, as conservation groups this week filed a lawsuit claiming that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by handing management of the species to the state.

The state’s wolf management policy allows almost unlimited wolf killing much of the state in a designated predator zone and doesn’t adequately protect wolves even where killing is regulated. The lawsuit alleges Wyoming’s policy will result in wolf deaths that undermine the recovery of the species. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Continue reading

Feds OK massive Wyoming wind energy project

Mapped wind energy potential in Wyoming, by NREL.

Site-specific reviews still to come for what could be a 3,000 MW facility

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When it comes to renewable energy and reducing greenhouse gases, actions speak a lot louder than words. And despite almost constant carping from environmental groups, the Obama administration has made significant progress in four years.

Most recently, the Department of Interior announced approval of the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project site in Wyoming. At completion, the complex could generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity — enough to power almost 1 million homes.

With the approval, the administration has reached its goal of authorizing 10,000 megawatts of renewable power on public lands, marking a sea change in the country’s energy mix. The project developers expect the proposal to create an estimated 1,000 construction, operation and maintenance jobs and generate enough energy to power nearly 1 million homes. Continue reading

Environment: EPA hits Wyoming refinery with $378,000 fine

EPA inspection finds multiple violations of environmental regulations

The Sinclair refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming. Photo via Wikipedia and the Creative Commons.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Sloppy operations, maintenance and record-keeping have cost a Wyoming refinery $378,000 in fines, according to the EPA, which this week announced a Clean Air Act settlement with the Sinclair Wyoming Refining Company.

Along with the fine, Sinclair will update operating procedures, perform required training to workers, improve maintenance of equipment and perform integrity tests on pressure vessels and piping that will reduce the possibility of an accidental release of hazardous chemicals at its refinery in Sinclair, Wyoming.

Hazardous substances of concern used at the Sinclair refinery include large quantities of propane, butane, and flammable hydrocarbon mixtures. Under the Clean Air Act, facilities that utilize hazardous and flammable substances above specified thresholds must develop and submit a risk management plan to assist with emergency preparedness, chemical release prevention, and minimization of releases that occur.

In June 2010, an EPA inspection found that the facility had not adequately implemented those regulations.

“Sinclair has had several accidents and releases of hazardous substances over the past several years that relate to process equipment,” said Mike Gaydosh, director of EPA’s enforcement program in Denver. “This settlement will help ensure the company is operating in accordance with industry standards to protect the environment as well as residents of nearby communities.”

Among other things, the inspection showed that Sinclair failed to replace rusted out pipes and didn’t test and replace pressure relief valves at the facility. The company also was far behind on required inspections and maintenance procedures, according to the EPA.

The consent decree was lodged in U.S. District Court and is subject to a 30-day comment period and final approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice website at: http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

U.S. Supreme Court rejects national forest roadless rule challenge

State, mining and ranching groups lose bid to overturn protection for 58 million acres of environmental valuable wild lands

The national forest roadless rule stands.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A last-ditch effort by miners, ranchers and other extractive users to overturn the U.S. Forest Service’s national roadless rule has failed, as the U.S. Supreme Court reject a plea to hear the case.

The formal petition came from the state of Wyoming, which last year lost its challenge in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Wyoming was joined in the petition by eight other states, numerous mining and ranching groups, along with several motorized recreation groups.

The states and groups repeated their oft-rejected claims that the rule was adopted in violation of federal environmental laws and that the rule represented a de facto illegal creation of wilderness. Continue reading

Special elk hunt set for Grand Teton National Park

Park Service says hunters are switching to non-lead ammo

Elk in Grand Teton National Park. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — First you feed ‘em, than you shoot ‘em.

That seems to be the theory of game management in Wyoming, where Grand Teton National Park officials announced the Oct. 8 start of the annual elk reduction program mandated by Congress when the park was created in 1950.

The legislation  directs Grand Teton NP to jointly develop this annual program with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and for the Governor of Wyoming and Secretary of the Interior Department to approve the plan.

Biologists and administrators from both agencies have reviewed available biological data and concluded that the 2012 program is necessary to keep the Jackson elk herd at or near objective and maintain a desired summer distribution of elk throughout their natural range.  Continue reading

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