Cooper McKim

Natural Resources & Energy Reporter

Phone: 307-766-0809
Email: cmckim5@uwyo.edu

Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, South Carolina, and now Wyoming. In South Carolina, he covered recovery efforts from a devastating flood in 2015. Throughout his time, he produced breaking news segments and short features for NPR. Cooper recently graduated from Tufts University with degrees in Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.

 

Ways to Connect

A map of all federally owned land in the United States (from 2005)
U.S. Bureau of Land Management

Judge Scott Skavdahl for the United States District Court, District of Wyoming has placed an injunction on part of the Obama-era valuation rule. That rule was intended to update how royalties are calculated from energy production on federal and native land with the goal of giving a fair price to taxpayers.

Eagle Butte mine post-bankrutpcy
Cooper McKim

Eagle Specialty Materials, LLC (ESM) can't close on its deal to own and operate two Wyoming mines just yet. The affiliate of Ohio-based FM Coal hit a snag in its attempts to replace surety bonds for the mines; an agreement that guarantees clean-up costs.

Judge Frank Volk approving the closure of Blackjewel's sale of western assets to Eagle Specialty Materials, LLC
Prime Clerk

Prior to bankruptcy, the federal government was investigating Blackjewel, LLC for possible fraud. The U.S Attorney's Office was concerned the coal company may use a reorganization to get out of debts owed to the government. In other words, that it was violating the False Claims Act. Court filings show Blackjewel owes several federal agencies upwards of $50 million.

Pacificorp

In December of last year, Pacificorp released a presentation that shook several Wyoming cities and their state leaders. It was the first hint of the utility's 20-year Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) and it included the early closure of many coal plants including three in Wyoming.

The Cordero Rojo Mine - taken when Cloud Peak was still the operator
Cloud Peak Energy

On October 2, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware approved the Navajo Transitional Energy Company, LLC (NTEC) to purchase Cloud Peak's assets including the Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines in the Powder River Basin. It comes a month and a half after the Navajo Nation-company won in the initial auction.

Coal mines north and east of Gillette Campbell County Airport, including the Eagle Butte Mine
Public Domain

Judge Frank Volk for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of West Virginia has approved Eagle Specialty Materials, LLC (ESM) as the buyer of Blackjewel's western assets including the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines. ESM is an affiliate specifically formed by Ohio-based FM Coal to purchase the assets.

Campbell County Commission Meeting
Campbell County

Three months since Blackjewel LLC filed for bankruptcy, a new company is set to close a deal this week and take over the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines. At a Campbell County Commission meeting, Carol Seeger, the county administrative director, said Eagle Specialty Materials LLC is expected to close on its sale order this Friday, October 4.

Cooper McKim

Driving down a long-rural road in central Wyoming, Gina Clingerman pulls up to the gate of a minimum-security prison called the Honor Farm. A security guard gives the truck a once-over.

WY Insurance Department
The State of Wyoming Insurance Department

Former Blackjewel miners can now obtain a retroactive health insurance plan from the federal government. That means if a worker applies now for federal health insurance, it can count towards treatment starting September 1.

On August 31, Blackjewel terminated health insurance plans for hundreds of furloughed coal miners after filing for bankruptcy earlier this summer.

Methane is flared from a well pad in North Dakota's Bakken formation in photo taken during a 2014 NOAA research project.
Jeff Peischl / NOAA/CIRES

Over the last few years, oil production has spiked in the U.S., with help from states such as Wyoming and Colorado. And the boom brought a nearly 50 percent increase in natural gas flaring between 2017 and 2018, according to the Global Gas Flaring Reduction Partnership, which is managed by the World Bank.

Completed orphaned well projects along with proposed ones
Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

An outdated regulation within the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is allowing the majority of oil and gas operators on federal land to put down money for clean-up that doesn't reflect actual cost; that's according to a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

Congressional Research Service

A congressional subcommittee questioned the Trump administration on Wednesday over its rollback of Obama-era Clean Water Act protections.

Eagle Butte mine post-bankrutpcy
Cooper McKim

Contura Energy has entered into an agreement with an Alabama coal company to take over the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr coal mines in the Powder River Basin. The deal is dependent on Contura reaching a resolution with the federal government and other entities in court to become the owner of both mines.

Inspection Log From DEQ
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality says Contura Energy does not have to revise its permit to mine or for reclamation plans right now.

It comes in response to an August 28 complaint from the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC), a landowners' group, arguing the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines have been inactive for enough time without seeing updated relevant plans that Contura is in violation of state and federal rules.

Letter sent to Blackjewel employees September 9
Blackjewel LLC

After weeks of little information from a West Virginia court, Blackjewel could soon be welcoming back its western employees. Workers received a letter with the company's letterhead yesterday, September 9, with the subject, "Possible Recall of Furloughed Blackjewel Workers of Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte Facilities."

Agenda of topics to be discussed in the coming committee
Legislative Service Office

Wyoming's Management Council has started a new, one-year legislative committee in response to the recent spate of bankruptcies in the coal industry. The hope is to produce legislation that puts Wyoming in an improved position in future reorganizations.

Cooper McKim

On a bright morning outside Gillette, Darlene Rea is getting ready to job search. She might visit Sheridan this afternoon. Until two months ago, Rea worked in Blackjewel's warehouse - receiving freight, writing invoices and finding parts. But since the coal company's abrupt bankruptcy, she's been stuck looking for work.

The five preferred scenarios. Higher numbers within the parentheses stand for larger consumer savings over the life of the IRP
Pacificorp

Pacificorp held another public input meeting on its 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in Salt Lake City this week. The IRP goes through over 50 potential models to decide its energy portfolio for the near future. The utility provides power across the west including Wyoming.

Pacificorp has whittled down its preferred choices to five scenarios, which would all impact Wyoming plant retirements. Four of the five scenarios would close two of three units from Kemmerer's Naughton Plant early in 2025. All five would convert the last unit there to gas. All scenarios would also mean early retirement for part of the Jim Bridger plant near Rock Springs.

The Common Morel
Bridger-Teton National Forest

Bridger-Teton National Forest ended its first-ever commercial mushroom hunting season in August, lasting just over four months. The local supervisor's office aimed to prepare itself for an influx of mushroom harvesters following the 2018 Roosevelt wildfire.

A gas flare, used to burn off flammable gas -- on Highway 59 from Gillette
Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

The Trump Administration is looking to change Obama-era national air quality standards for the oil and gas industry that limited methane - a pollutant considered the second largest contributor to climate change. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed changes Thursday to the 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), influenced at the time by Wyoming's regulations.

View of the southeastern part of the Black Thunder ranch - land considered in the appraisal document
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality

The First Judicial District Court in Wyoming ruled in favor of a landowners group in a case considering the release of previously confidential reclamation documents to the public. It helps shed light on how Contura Coal West, LLC (Contura) is backing 20 percent of its reclamation obligations for the Belle Ayr mine in the Powder River Basin.

In 2017, Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) accepted the real property collateral bond. A certified appraiser showed that nearly 50,000 acres of property were collectively worth $26.7 million. It was appraised twice, and then reviewed by another appraiser, according to the DEQ.

Petition
Citizens Supporting Wyoming Coal

A Washington state appeals court dealt another blow to a controversial coal export terminal. It reaffirms a regulator's decision made back in 2017. Judge Lisa Sutton found the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) acted properly in denying the Millennium Bulk Terminal necessary leases to begin development.

In 2012, Millennium introduced a full plan to build the largest coal export terminal on the West Coast and was seeking to ship about 44 million metric tons of coal per year. It hoped to add two large docks to its property in Longview, Washington.

Identical Business Address from three LLCs - all linked to Tom Clarke
Multiple Secretary of State Websites

Virginia businessman Tom Clarke, who recently came close to owning Westmoreland's Kemmerer mine, appears to be the back-up bidder in Cloud Peak Energy's asset sale. That comes despite his name not being immediately connected to the LLC in public court documents.

The business address of Aspen Coal & Energy, LCC (Aspen) matches up with two other Tom Clarke-led LLCs in Merida Natural Resources and Western Coal Acquisition Partners in Roanoke, Virginia. In the articles of organization for the company, the entity forming the company was Clarke Investments, LLC.

Shipments from the Navajo Mine to its only customer Four Corners Power Plant
US Energy Information Administration

After more than nine months of searching for a buyer, Cloud Peak Energy has chosen its winning bidder. U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware Judge Kevin Gross approved the sale today with NTEC taking on all of Cloud Peak's assets including its Antelope and Cordero Rojo mines. 

Cooper McKim

The sun is starting to set over a gravel road next to a ranch south of Casper. The evening reflects purple in nearby puddles on the road. Project leader Katrina Cook, along with her field technician Becky Blankenship, is preparing for the first nocturnal call survey of the night, three-minute intervals where they stand in a single spot and just listens for frogs of any kind, in any direction.

Contura Energy logo
Contura Energy

Contura Energy is not yet the owner of Blackjewel's two Wyoming mines. But, in an earnings call, the company did give insight into their expectations for the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines.

The logo set on letters regarding 401(k) termination
Blackjewel

The West Virginia court overseeing Blackjewel's bankruptcy has authorized the end of 401(k) plans for all the company's miners. It was one condition of Contura Energy's purchase of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines. Many Blackjewel workers responded to the news with thanks on Facebook, one commenting "Hallelujah."

Pages