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Wyoming fracking rules point the way for public disclosure

Wyoming's hydraulic fracturing regulations could be the shape of things to come. The Obama administration is looking to the Cowboy State as a model for fracturing disclosure on federal lands in the West. Interior Department officials figure it would be hard to argue against an approach developed in petroleum-friendly Wyoming. If that led to Western state governments adopting similar rules, Eastern states such as Pennsylvania could feel pressure to demand similar information from drillers tapping into the rich Marcellus Shale.

Hometown Hills: Struggling Community Ski Areas Explore New Financial Models

Running a small ski area in Wyoming has never been a quick path to easy riches, and a flurry of closures and sales among struggling ski hills across the state in recent years has prompted some operators to look for new business models to make their community slopes financially sustainable. With a sparse customer base, high operating costs, isolated locations, aging infrastructure and changing winter recreation habits, community ski hills across Wyoming face a daunting array of challenges in competing against major destination resorts like Aspen and Sun Valley. While most major ski resorts have earned revenue from real estate sales, lodging and high-end services, those options have not been available to smaller ski hills. Antelope Butte, between Shell and Dayton, has been closed since 2004, and efforts by a Powell group to reopen the facility as a nonprofit have so far been unsuccessful. Big Horn Ski Resort near Ten Sleep reopened with new owners as Meadowlark Ski Lodge in January, after being closed in 2008. Snowy Range ski area was kept running last year by First National Bank of Wyoming in Laramie, until new owners took over for the 2010-11 season.

Casper’s Last Neighborhood Grocery Struggles to Survive

Bill and Nancy Wayte own Grant Street Grocery, the last neighborhood grocery store in Casper. In its heyday, Casper had 99 neighborhood grocery stores. The Waytes sell high-quality goods, donate to local nonprofit groups and help distribute locally grown produce. But all their efforts may not be enough to keep the store’s doors open. Small, locally owned stores often have higher inventory and per-customer operating costs, and face intense competitive pressures from billion-dollar corporate chain stores.

‘Cluster Developments’ Slow to Catch on in Bighorn Basin

Six years after developers announced their plan to build a 104-lot gated subdivision on 550 acres between Cody and Yellowstone National Park, the Copperleaf subdivision is now owned by the bank that financed it. Critics of the project have said its homes would be spaced close together on small lots, or clustered, in a way not in keeping with the surrounding rural community. Copperleaf is not the only project in the area to draw fire for being a “cluster development.” But proponents say it is a useful technique to help preserve open space and encourage strong ties between rural neighbors. They see cluster developments as preferable to vast checkerboard subdivisions of small ranchettes, each with their own septic tank, horse pen, workshop and outbuildings.

Whitebark Pine Trees Face Long Odds for Survival

For millennia, whitebark pine trees have held firm to the cold, rocky timberlines of the northern Rockies, Cascades and Sierra Nevada, providing shelter, food and other ecosystem services for mountain wildlife. But before long, the hardy, snow-battered tree whose nutritionally dense seeds are a delicacy for grizzly bears, red squirrels and mountain birds may become functionally extinct. In numerous reaches of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and southern Canada, whitebark pine trees have declined by as much as 90 percent, experts say, and their prospects for recovery seem to be growing dimmer by the year.

Oil and Gas Producers Seek New Water Solutions

Oil and natural gas wells within about a 100-mile radius of Rawlins produce more than 400 million barrels of water annually, according to industry estimates. Most all of that water is either dumped into ponds to evaporate (adding to the greenhouse effect) or is injected into deep hydrologic “waste” zones. (Ben) Hinman used to work as a pumper for one of the major natural gas producers in the Wamsutter gas field. “It was frustrating seeing them waste this water,” said Hinman. Hinman said he was proud to work in the oil and gas industry. He cherished the lifestyle it afforded him to spend in Wyoming’s outdoors hunting and hiking. But working at the water reclamation plant is even more gratifying because he believes the process helps strike the balance most Wyomingites seek between energy development and environmental conservation. “That’s why when I heard what Red Desert was doing, I said I’m on-board,” said Hinman.

‘Milk Cows,’ Social Security and Trimming America’s Budget Deficits

Former Sen. Alan Simpson has a history of colorful comments and pushing to overhaul Social Security. So it was no surprise when senior citizen groups locked horns with him during his work as co-chair of a national deficit reduction panel. But Simpson said he enjoys sparring with extremists on both ends of the political spectrum, and presented a plan that treats Social Security as a standalone issue, separate from deficit reduction efforts.

What the Deficit Reduction Plan Means for Wyoming

How a proposed deficit reduction plan would affect Wyoming remains to be seen. But key provisions could raise cost of doing business in the state for oil, gas and mining companies. Most people in the state, according to public opinion polls and a recent town hall meeting, want to see Congress set aside partisan differences and tackle the issue once and for all.

'You Ain't Seen What We’ve Done to You Yet’

Former Sen. Alan Simpson said his work on a federal budget deficit panel has changed the national debate on the issue, and is likely to find backers in Congress as the result of a 'tectonic shift' in Washington, D.C. politics.